Women change pleas in 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 await sentencing after changing their pleas to guilty and no contest, respectively.

Cheneka Gardner, 28, of Detroit and Wilma Jean Gissantaner, 51, of Detroit changed their pleas while in front of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Margaret Van Houten for a pretrial hearing April 29.

Both defendants were charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse, but according to court documents the child abuse charges were dropped by the prosecution in exchange for a guilty plea from Gissantaner and a no contest plea from Gardner.

The involuntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Gissantaner also was 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.

Both defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by Van Houten May 30.

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 about 15 children in the pool during the party and were in the hot tub area when the drowning took place. Gissantaner was getting out of the hot tub to prepare to return the children to their hotel rooms when she saw 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 Gissantaner and Gardner had been drinking alcohol and failed to properly supervise the children in the pool.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at