1 sentenced in ’12 drowning; second misses date

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — The two women charged in the 2012 drowning death of a 5-year-old boy at a Dearborn hotel were to be sentenced last Thursday but only one appeared before the judge.

Cheneka Gardner, 28, of Detroit, was given a sentence of one year at the Wayne County Jail and five years of probation by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Margaret Van Houten after pleading no contest to the charge of involuntary manslaughter in April.

Co-defendant Wilma Jean Gissantaner, 51, of Detroit failed to appear in court and a bench warrant was issued for her.

Gissantaner pled guilty to the charge of involuntary manslaughter in April.

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 in April.

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

Gissantaner was also 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 polie 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 boliver@bewickpublications.com.)