UMATILLA, Florida—The young girl left in a sweltering hot van last summer for 1 hour and 22 minutes beat on the van’s windows and doors and honked the horn until she was rescued, and the adults in charge of her failed to call 9-1-1, according to the girl’s mom and a report obtained by Inside Lake.
The girl, who was three weeks shy of her 7th birthday when the incident occurred in June 2022, fell asleep on a field trip to the Umatilla Public Pool and the adults who were responsible for her care failed to notice she was in the van and failed to count the children when they arrived at the pool to an outside temperature of 90 degrees last summer, according to the report written by Umatilla Police Department.
Inside Lake is not naming the girl or her mother.
According to the report, the child was at a summer camp held by Dance Depot at its Mount Dora location June 22, 2022, when a group of 41 children and seven staff members made the trek to the pool in three different vehicles. Dance Depot Owner Jolene Coates, 51, told UPD when they arrived at the pool, she said they counted the children but did not walk the length of the van due to the back doors being open at the time. Coates said 41 children were in the count and another child that was not in their group must have been counted by accident. Coates was not driving the van the child was trapped in. Another employee—the van’s driver— told police during a later interview that a head count was conducted before they left the studio, but not after they arrived at the pool, contradicting the statement Coates made to police. She told police Coates usually conducts the head counts, but sometimes that can change, and she was just “so busy” that day she did not conduct a count. Inside Lake is not naming the employee because she has not been charged with a crime.
Coates told police in a second interview in July 2022 she did not have any medical training except a recently expired CPR certification and “mom skills.” She said she did everything she would do if it was one of her own children.
The day of the incident, numerous people heard honking coming from outside the pool, Coates went out to investigate and found the girl locked in the van and ran to get the keys to let her out, the report states. Coates told police the girl had been left in the van approximately 40 to 50 minutes, but surveillance video later showed the girl had actually been alone in the locked van for 82 minutes, close to 1.5 hours. The video shows the campers arriving and entering the pool at 1:42 p.m., and just before 3:03 p.m. Coates is seen walking from the pool area to the parking lot. One minute later Coates is seen running back to the pool area to retrieve the keys to the van and at 3:05 p.m. Coates is seen walking back to the pool area with the girl.
The video also showed the girl’s face was “extremely” red and the top half of her shirt was so soaked with sweat, it appeared to be a darker color than the bottom half, an officer noted in the report.
Coates said she removed the child from the van, took her in a bathroom, removed her bathing suit, put cold water on her pulse points and neck. She then had the girl sit in the shade and gave her a popsicle. Three lifeguards told UPD the girl was crying and one of them, a juvenile, said the girl was having trouble breathing.
Coates said about 5 minutes later the girl asked to get in the pool, and she swam with her friends the rest of the time she was at the pool.
When Inside Lake broke the story Wednesday, it garnered dozens of comments on social media and opinions and rumors started flying, including a rumor that the girl continued to attend the summer camp following the incident. The girl’s mom spoke to this reporter Thursday to set the record straight.
According to Mom, Coates did not inform her about the incident until she picked her daughter up that afternoon and she was not truthful.
“We were not immediately notified,” she said.
Mom said Coates did apologize and she could tell Coates was “torn about something.” Coates told her they would be working on new training to make sure there was a head count as soon as they got out of the van, and it was a new employee who did not follow procedure.
She said when a UPD officer called her the day after the incident she was shocked to find out her little girl had been in the van much longer than Coates portrayed.
“The thing that caught me off guard…is that the time frame did not match with what was shown on the surveillance video. It seemed like a quick in-and-out thing, not an extended amount of time.”
The girl returned to the camp the next day, but once UPD told Mom how long the girl had actually been trapped in the van, her father immediately went to the studio and picked her up and she never returned, Mom said.
“Because of the conversation we had with Jolene (Coates,) and we had entrusted her, and we knew of her reputation; it was an accident. And then once we got the report from the police and the witness statements, we realized we were lied to, I immediately called my husband, and he promptly went and got her out of there.”
People on social media also questioned why the child did not get out of the van on her own, “She was banging on the doors, she banged on the windows, she couldn’t open the doors, she couldn’t open the windows. Her hands, they were beet red, like the veins on her hands were bloodshot from banging on them and then she was able to get to the horn, thankfully.”
When Mom and Dad spoke with police the day after the incident, they pressed charges that day, Mom said, and the State Attorney’s Office (SAO) had already planned on picking up the charges. She said the SAO told them in August 2022, an arrest could take a long time, as much as a year or more and they could only charge one party and the office felt the owner was the most liable. It was nearly 11 months since the incident when the principal to child neglect warrant was finally issued, and it took another week for her to get arrested. She was arrested and released Monday on $2,000 bond.
The second grader does not have any lasting physical injuries, but the incident has taken an emotional toll on her, Mom said. Her parents have had to reevaluate how they do certain things, and they rearranged their schedules this summer so they can spend the summer with her, rather than enroll her in a summer camp. Mom told Inside Lake she has become a “helicopter mom” and no longer trusts anyone to watch the girl outside of family.
Mom said she would like to see Coates get the maximum punishment and accountability for her actions. “I want the most responsible outcome anyone would expect out of this. If this was their child, like anybody else, if this was their child, how would they feel?”