Daycare operator pleads guilty in hot-car death of 2-year-old Eva Ravikovich

Daycare operator guilty in toddler's death

TORONTO — A two-year-old girl whose death brought heightened scrutiny to Ontario’s child care system was left inside a boiling SUV outside her daycare north of Toronto for about seven hours before her lifeless body was discovered, a court heard Tuesday.

Olena Panfilova, who owned the daycare in Vaughan, Ont., pleaded guilty this week to criminal negligence causing death nearly four years after the incident that claimed Eva Ravikovich’s life.

The plea comes one year after Panfilova was found guilty under Ontario’s Day Nurseries Act of operating an illegal daycare.

Her husband and adult daughter were also found guilty of the illegal daycare charge last year, and the trio was sentenced to 30 days in jail, to be served intermittently on weekends, and given two years to each pay a $15,000 fine with a victim surcharge.

Panfilova will face sentencing for the criminal negligence charge on May 19.

In an email to The Canadian Press, a lawyer representing Eva’s parents said now that the criminal proceedings have concluded, a lawsuit against the daycare operators and the Ministry of Education can move forward.

“The Ministry had full knowledge of this illegal daycare and did not take appropriate steps to investigate it or shut it down,” Patrick Brown alleged in the email. “It should not have taken the death of a child for the government to finally take action. This is not the standard that we should be expecting in Ontario.”

An agreed statement of facts read in court said Panfilova had a business licence for “Lena Daycare,” but she never applied to be licensed under the Day Nurseries Act, which is required for daycares with more than five children under the age of 10.

The court document said two employees with the Ministry of Education inspected the daycare almost a year before Eva’s death and found Panfilova was caring for seven children. She was told then — through her daughter, who often acted as her Russian interpreter — that she was required to reduce the number of children at her daycare or apply for the licence.

The agreed statement of facts said the facility was popular, particularly with Russian-speaking parents, in part because it cost hundreds of dollars less per month than most other daycares and because Panfilova offered a pick-up and drop-off service.

It also said when Panfilova arrived at the daycare at 9:30 a.m. on the July 2013 morning Eva died, she removed all the children from the passenger side of her SUV but forgot Eva, who was strapped in a car seat on the driver’s side.

Panfilova, who had 35 children at her daycare that day, did not realize she had left Eva sitting in the hot vehicle until sometime after 5 p.m.

The document said the vehicle likely heated up to at least 50 C by noon, adding the little girl died of heat stroke.

Panfilova initially told paramedics and police that she put Eva down for a nap that afternoon in the daycare and found the child was not breathing when she went to check up on her, the statement of facts said.

Panfilova and her daughter Karina Rabadanova were also charged with obstruction of justice three months after Eva’s death because they would not provide police with surveillance footage from their daycare’s cameras and Eva’s child seat had gone missing.

“Olena Panfilova admits that she had a duty of care (to) protect Eva on July 8, 2013, but that she failed in that duty by leaving Eva in her vehicle all day, thereby causing Eva’s death,” the statement said.

Brown said despite the terrible events that were revealed in court Tuesday, the Ravikovich family is relieved that this part of the process has come to an end.

“The family looks forward to finding closure and a just conclusion to both the criminal and civil proceedings,” Brown said.

The daycare closed after Eva’s death.

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press