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special to the national law journal On an august day in 2001, 2-year-old Zaniyah Hinson went on a field trip with her classmates from the Abundant Life Academy of Learning. The toddler-and 13 others-were packed into a seven-passenger Chevrolet Astro van. She never returned home. Left behind and forgotten, she died in the van in the Florida summer sun. “She died from a stroke after her brain literally swelled from the heat,” said her mother’s attorney, Benjamin Crump of Tallahassee, Fla.’s Parks & Crump. He said that his client, Tekela Harris-Carter, is still distraught over the way her daughter died. The now-defunct school was owned by River of Abundant Life Ministries Inc. Florida filed criminal charges against the ministry for Zaniyah’s death. But on April 24, Volusia County Circuit Judge James Foxman found Abundant Life not guilty of aggravated manslaughter. Foxman, who sat as judge and jury because Abundant Life waived its right to a jury trial, said the ministry was not guilty because it had training programs in place to prevent such accidents and that the corporation wasn’t aware that its employees were not following those procedures. “He’s a good judge, but he’s applying a municipal liability standard to this criminal case,” prosecutor Phillip Havens said. “Even if you do apply the municipal liability standard, it should still be a guilty verdict because the president of the school knew they were understaffed-he’s the one who ordered the restaffing.” Both Havens and Crump blamed Zaniyah’s death on understaffing due to a planned move by the school. They said that Rev. Marcus Triplett, the school’s president, ordered teachers to move boxes as part of the school’s move the following Monday to a larger facility. “That’s a lie,” said Abundant Life’s attorney, Harrison Slaughter of Orlando, Fla.’s Leventhal & Slaughter. “We completely impeached those teachers who said Reverend Triplett pulled them off the job for the move.” Havens maintained, however, “If the regulations had been followed, she wouldn’t be dead today.”

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