Home / One year since 4-year-old girl died in Arcadia daycare crash

One year since 4-year-old girl died in Arcadia daycare crash

Reporter: Gail Levy, Jolena Esperto Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

Thursday marked one year since a driver went off the road and into a daycare killing 4-year-old Maleena Valdez.

It happened at an Arcadia daycare called Imagination Station. Kiara Morant, the driver, was arrested after crashing into the playground while children were outside playing.

One year later, the heartbreaking screams still ring in the community’s memory.

911 caller: “I need somebody now! Now!”
911 dispatcher: “You said the Imagination Station?”
911 caller: “Yes, yes, yes, yes! A car has hit a child! Hurry up!”

Valdez’s grandmother said Imagination Station is just as responsible for the death of her granddaughter as the driver.

Scene of the crash at the Arcadia playground. CREDIT: WINK News

She used the term ‘hate’ when describing the daycare.

When you look at the Imagination Station now, they’ve tried to do everything imaginable to prevent this from happening again.

They can’t change the traffic flow, but they reinforced the flimsy chainlink fence with guardrails. Big concrete blocks now barricade the front entrance, and the turn warning signs that 19-year-old Kiara Morant, the woman behind the SUV’s wheel that crashed into the daycare, knocked down are all replaced.

One year after a deadly crash, Valdez’s pain remains sharp while her anger only deepens.

“It still feels so unreal. Every day it feels so unreal. Like, I still feel like I’m gonna get that phone call from her and say what, grandma? You know, like, I would call her every day,” Maleena said.

The 4-year-old died when police say Morant drove a Jeep into a chain-linked fence. Police then say that Morant was driving without a license.

Kiara Morant. Credit: DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office

In 2022, when WINK News spoke with Savannah Valdez, Maleena Valdez’s mother, she said she wants Morant behind bars and the daycare held accountable.

“I really thought my daughter was safe there, you know, she’s been there for almost a year. She was going to graduate, and they got all that stuff donated, and you know it took for my daughter to lose her life,” Savannah said.

“Why did this happen? You know, I mean, it’s just, I mean, I don’t understand. You know, I’m trying to understand. I’m trying to cope with it still, but I can’t,” Maleena said.

Maleena’s family members are expected to gather at the daycare Thursday to release balloons in her memory.

Morant has her next court appearance for the crash on April 4. Since the crash, she’s been in the DeSoto County Jail.