Two women charged in child swimming pool drowning

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Two women were charged last week in the 2012 drowning death of a 5-year-old boy at a Dearborn hotel.

Cheneka Gardner, 28, of Detroit, was arraigned Thursday in 19th District Court before Judge William Hultgren on charges of involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse.

Gardner faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison for the manslaughter charge and 4 years for the child abuse charge. She was given a $2,500 10 percent bond and will have a preliminary examination of the evidence against her before Hultgren at 9 a.m. Aug. 9.

Wilma Jean Gissantaner, 51, of Detroit, was arraigned Friday before Hultgren. She also is charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse but will also be charged as a habitual offender because she has a prior conviction on her record from 2011 for felonious assault. The habitual offender charge will cause the possible maximum penalties to be 1.5 times their normal amounts.

Her preliminary exam also was set for 9 a.m. Aug. 9. She was released on a $10,000 personal bond.

Gissantaner was scheduled to turn herself in to be arraigned at the same time as Gardner but failed to make her appearance until the following afternoon. The reason for the delay was not disclosed, but attorney Jim Harrison, who walked Gissantaner into the court, told Hultgren that there had been a disconnect between the defendant and the detectives investigating the case, but that the matter was now settled.

It was not determined if Harrison will represent Gissantaner moving forward or she will retain a court-appointed attorney.

The charges stem from the death of Javion Rucker-Todd who drowned in the pool of the former Hyatt Regency during a birthday party held for Gardner’s daughter on Oct. 5, 2012. Rucker-Todd was deaf and could not speak.

According to police reports, the women were watching approximately 15 children in the pool during the party and were in the hot tub area when the incident took place. Gissantaner was getting out of the hot tub to prepare to return the children to their hotel rooms when she saw Rucker-Todd floating face down in the water. She jumped in and pulled him out of the water but he never regained consciousness despite CPR efforts of a doctor at the hotel.

It is alleged that that Gissantaner and Gardner had been drinking alcohol and failed to properly supervise the children in the pool.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at