Lawrence police are investigating a day-care transportation company for allegedly losing track of a 2-year-old boy for up to two hours Friday afternoon, before getting the child safely back into the arms of his desperate mother with little immediate explanation of what happened.
“I need questions to be answered,” said Diana Bermudez, 30, who said her toddler was sleeping in a urine-soaked diaper and partially covered in vomit when reunited with her.
The transportation company, Transerve, has since been fired by the day-care center.
But in a telephone interview Saturday afternoon, the owner of Transerve, said the boy, Yamil Cruz, was always accounted for, though he acknowledged serious communication problems Friday afternoon. The owner said that day was the driver’s first on the job, and she and company staff had failed to tell the family that everything was running badly behind schedule.
“The child was safe,” said Freddy Recio, who says his company is 14 years old and transports some 400 children in Lawrence. “The route was delayed.”
Lawrence police Chief John Romero said his officers are interviewing the transportation company officials.
Meanwhile, the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, which runs the government-subsidized day-care center that Yamil attends, is notifying families they will have to get their children to day care on their own until a new service is hired, said a council spokesman, Jason Kauppi. Kauppi said Transerve transported only seven toddlers in its day-care operation, and it used different transportation companies for its other programs serving some 200 youngsters.
After Yamil was reunited with his mother, he was examined at a local hospital and released in good health, the family said.
Bermudez said Friday began like other weekdays since her son began at that day-care center six months ago: The boy was picked up by the van service outside the family’s home around 8 a.m., which freed Bermudez to go to her full-time job as a shift leader at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Lawrence.
The mother returned in the afternoon, expecting the van to come around 4:15 p.m. as it usually does. When it did not arrive, she began making phone calls, first confirming that her son had left the day care around 3:30 p.m. and then trying to reach Transerve staff to find out where her son was. Bermudez said she finally got through around 4:45 p.m. to a Transerve secretary who kept putting her on hold, and said she was having problems reaching the driver by cellphone.
At one point, Bermudez said the secretary said all the company vans were at the lot, and the mother should confirm that the boy was not still at the day-care center.
Through all the confusion and panic, Bermudez ultimately went to the day care center herself, and then received word from the transportation company that the boy was fine; he would be dropped off by the driver at the day-care center, rather than the home because the mother — as the driver allegedly discovered when ultimately pulling up — was no longer there.
The transportation company owner, Recio, said the secretary had reached the driver by phone in route at some point and asked if the boy was in the van. The driver, however, mistakenly thought Yamil was a girl because of his long hair, and allegedly told the secretary the boy was not there.
Recio said the day-care center’s decision to fire him seems unfair and he is sympathetic to Bermudez for being upset. “I understand,” he said.