Orange County judge gives woman 5 years probation for 4-year-old’s hot car death

Mariah Butler pleaded guilty in January 2020 to child neglect

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A woman was sentenced in Orange County Thursday to five years of supervised probation in the death of her boyfriend’s 4-year-old son after she left him in a locked SUV in 2018.

Mariah Butler, who was a teacher at an Orange County School, pleaded guilty in January 2020 to the neglect of a child, in exchange prosecutors dropped her charge of aggravated manslaughter of a child. Along with her five years of supervised probation, Butler cannot be employed by any school, daycare facility or any other job that involves children.

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The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Logan Starling was found unresponsive in September of 2018, in a locked SUV parked at Elite Preparatory Academy on West Oak Ridge Road. Investigators said Starling was rushed to Arnold Palmer Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Butler, who taught at the school, said she had five children in her car and she thought they all got out as they walked into school, according to officials.

Records show that Butler thought Starling had possibly gotten back inside because he had a history of wandering off, but surveillance video showed that the boy never got out of the vehicle.

The other children couldn’t remember Starling getting out of the vehicle or being with them when they entered the school. When school let out at 2:30 p.m., another teacher asked Butler where Logan was, and Butler ran to the car and found him unconscious in his car seat, deputies said.

At the hearing Thursday, Butler apologized to the family and told the judge it was a tragic accident.

“I deeply regret my decisions that day of not being more aware,” Butler said. “It hurts. If I could rewind time and do things differently to that day. There are no words that can express how sorry I am.”

She said she’s a mother too and she made a mistake. She also told the judge that she’s been going through therapy and counseling for her anxiety and depression.

Butler mentioned that her cars now have a signal to remind them to check the seats before exiting the vehicle and doors that open automatically for the children.

Meantime, 4-year-old Logan’s biological mother said she was not happy with the judge’s decision.

“She gets no DCF case, no nothing and she gets to walk away with probation,” Logan’s mother Shelby Hester said.

Logan’s great-grandfather also said the judge’s sentence was not fair.

“I can’t believe that judge gave her probation for the death of a child,” Roy Werner said.

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Brenda, a UCF grad, joined the team in March 2021.