Preliminary exams postponed for women charged in child drowning

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — The preliminary examination of the evidence against the two women charged in the 2012 drowning death of a 5-year-old boy at a Dearborn hotel has been adjourned until later this month.

Cheneka Gardner, 28, of Detroit, and Wilma Jean Gissantaner, 51, of Detroit were scheduled to appear before 19th Circuit Court Judge William Hultgren on Oct. 3 for their examinations, but counsel for one of the women requested an adjournment because they had to be present at another legal proceeding.

Gardner is charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse, which carry maximum penalties of 15 and 4 years in prison, respectively.

Gissantaner faces the same charges 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.

The preliminary examinations were rescheduled for 8:30 a.m. Oct. 18.

The charges stem from the death of Javion Rucker-Todd, a 5-year-old boy 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 Rucker-Todd out of the water but the boy never regained consciousness despite the 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