Crime & Courts

Estate Of Child Who Perished In Hot Car Sues SCDSS

Lawsuit alleges SCDSS failed to act despite multiple notifications about inadequate care …

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The estate of Cristina Pangalangan is suing the South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS) for allegedly failing to act despite multiple notifications about inadequate care the child was receiving.

The 13-year-old girl died on August 5, 2019, after she was left unattended inside her mother’s 2012 Volkswagen Jetta for an estimated five hours – with temperatures inside the vehicle climbing as high as 130 degrees. As first responders arrived on the scene and found the young girl non-responsive, Cristina’s mother Rita Pangalangan – a local school teacher – claimed to have left her daughter in the car unattended for only a few minutes while she went inside her boyfriend’s home to get her cigarettes.

Rita Pangalangan claimed she and her boyfriend – 45-year-old Larry King, Jr. of Walterboro – found the girl locked inside the car.

Home security footage seized from the King’s home told a very different story. Specifically, it showed Pangalangan and King putting the Cristina in the vehicle at approximately 11:15 a.m. EDT and leaving her there for approximately an hour while they went inside King’s home. After checking on her briefly, the couple reentered King’s home where they stayed there for another three hours – at which point they departed the residence in King’s truck, leaving Cristina unattended in the vehicle for yet another hour.

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On September 1, 2023, Cristina’s mother and her then-boyfriend were convicted of murder in connection with Cristina’s death. Pangalangan received a 37-year prison sentence, while King was sentenced to 32 years in prison.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed against SCDSS by Wendi See, the special administrator of Cristina’s estate, on August 4, 2021. Attorney Karl Twenge, who represents See, contends SCDSS was notified several times about concerns for Cristina’s well-being, including a report less than six months before her death. The complaint alleges SCDSS “failed to intervene in any way.”

“Prior to Cristina’s death on August 5, 2019, DSS had been notified numerous times regarding the inappropriate care provided to Cristina by her mother,” the complaint stated. “On five separate occasions contact was made to DSS regarding concerns that individuals had regarding the care Cristina was receiving from her mother. The last contact DSS had with Cristina was on March 18, 2019, related to a severe burn on Cristina’s face, neck, and chest.”

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RELATED | GUILTY VERDICTS IN CHRISTINA PANGALANGAN TRIAL

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The complaint further argues that the agency’s “failure to comply with applicable South Carolina statutes and regulations provided in the above-stated allegations directly caused injury to the plaintiff.” The suit seeks both actual and punitive damages.

In its response filed on October 4, 2024, SCDSS denied any responsibility for Cristina’s death.

“The defendant denies any responsibility for injury to decedent and denies any wrongful act related to decedent’s death, and demands strict proof thereof,” attorney Peden Brown McLeod, Jr., who is representing SCDSS, noted in a filing from the agency.

Mediation in December 2023 ended with the parties at an impasse.

The wrongful death trial is expected to begin early as June 24, 2024, in Colleton County.

Stay tuned to FITSNews for the latest developments in this case …

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COMPLAINT/ RESPONSE…

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Callie Lyons (provided)

Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher and author. Her 2007 book ‘Stain-Resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof and Lethal’ was the first to cover forever chemicals and their impact on communities – a story later told in the movie ‘Dark Waters’. Her investigative work has been featured in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world. Lyons also appears in ‘Citizen Sleuth’ – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.

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3 comments

Charles Black Top fan June 18, 2024 at 7:01 pm

Wrongful death claims are paid to the statutory heirs — which for a minor would almost certainly be the parents. The child’s mother will be barred by her murder conviction and the Slayer Statute (can’t benefit by causing the death). So the father will receive the proceeds — after the attorney’s contingent fee (likely 40%), litigation expenses, and the expenses of administering the estate (which can include the Personal Representative’s commission of 5% or whatever fee the Court sets for the Special Administrator.)

Reply
MaryContrary Top fan June 19, 2024 at 7:24 am

Charles Black. Good info. I wonder if the child’s father ever intervened in an attempt to gain custody? If not, it doesn’t seem right that he should get a final benefit from this lawsuit. Hopefully whoever benefits from this suit actually tried to protect Christina.

Reply
Ex Post Facto June 23, 2024 at 11:33 am

One of DSS’s attorneys failed in private practice. But after the fact, the department hired him with arms wide open and a big ole hug.

Reply

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