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3-year-old girl in Shizuoka Prefecture dies after being left inside daycare bus for hours

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
The certified educational daycare center Kawasaki Yochien is seen on Monday afternoon in Makinohara, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Somehow, nobody noticed that 3-year-old China Kawamoto did not get off her daycare bus on Monday morning. By the time she was found on the vehicle later in the afternoon, she was unconscious and not breathing. A short time later, she was declared dead.

The tragedy occurred in Makinohara, Shizuoka Prefecture, where the young girl had been attending the certified educational daycare center Kawasaki Yochien.

Shizuoka prefectural police suspect that Kawamoto suffered heatstroke after being left on the bus for about five hours. They are investigating the case on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death and on Tuesday searched the daycare center.

According to the prefectural police and other sources, the daycare bus carrying Kawamoto arrived at the daycare center before 9 a.m. on Monday. In preparation for the return trip home later in the day, a female staff member boarded the bus parked in the daycare’s parking lot some time after 2 p.m., which is when the girl was discovered.

With Kawamoto unresponsive, the staff member called emergency services about 2:15 p.m. The girl was rushed to a hospital, where she was subsequently declared dead.

The bus was parked in an area with no shade, and the inside temperature is believed to have risen to dangerous levels. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the recorded high for Makinohara that day was 30.5 C.

The Makinohara municipal government, conducting its own investigation, told The Yomiuri Shimbun that the daycare said that the bus, which has a capacity for 18 passengers, was driven on the day of the incident by its director, Tatsuyoshi Masuda, 73, because the regular driver had taken a day off.

The bus had seven passengers — a female temp staffer in her 70s and six children including Kawamoto. Upon arriving at the daycare and having the passengers disembark, Masuda locked the bus, apparently without making a final check of the inside of the vehicle.

According to the Shizuoka prefectural government, 158 children were enrolled at Kawasaki Yochien as of May. Following a similar incident in July 2021, when a 5-year-old boy died after being left inside a nursery school bus in Nakama, Fukuoka Prefecture, it issued a notice demanding safety measures be put in place to prevent such cases.

The incident occurred in a residential area in the vicinity of the Haibara branch office of the Makinohara municipal government. The area was temporarily cordoned off and the atmosphere remained tense. A woman waiting for her child at the daycare conveyed her shock by saying, “Right now, I can’t even speak.”

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Investigators enter the certified educational daycare center Kawasaki Yochien on Tuesday.