Trial dates set for women charged in 2012 child drowning

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – The two women charged in the 2012 drowning death of a 5-year-old boy at a Dearborn hotel are scheduled to go to trial in Wayne County Circuit Court next spring.

Cheneka Gardner, 28, of Detroit, and Wilma Jean Gissantaner, 51, of Detroit will appear before 3rd Circuit Court Judge James Chylinski on Jan. 17 to have a final conference and a pre-trial to discuss jury instructions and preliminary matters pertaining to the case before beginning their jury trial at 9 a.m. March 12.

The dates were set Nov. 8 by Third Circuit Court Judge Margaret Van Houten during a calendar conference.

Both defendants had their bonds continued by Van Houten, with Gardner free on a $2,500, 10 percent bond and Gissantaner free on a $10,000 personal bond.

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

Gissantaner faces the same charges but also will 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 charges stem from the death of Javion Rucker-Todd, 5, 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 observed the victim 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