Mom let child play on airport escalator for hour before fatal fall, court documents say

Mom arrested months after 3-year-old falls to his death at Charlotte airport

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Police have arrested and charged a woman two months after her 3-year-old son fell to his death inside the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Jaiden Cowart fell on Sept. 25 in a stairway near the baggage claim area, officials said.

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The boy's mother, Jiterria Ravon Lightner, 25, of Charlotte, said that after a trip from Florida, she was trying to pick up the family's baggage with her three small children.

Police said Jaiden fell down an escalator. He was taken to Atrium Health, where he later died.

On Tuesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police issued warrants on her for misdemeanor child abuse.

Lightner turned herself in to police Thursday and faced a judge Friday.

(Lightner)

Court documents suggest that this wasn’t just a mother turning her back on her kids for a moment.

Police said Jaiden and his sister were playing up and down the escalator and the steps.

“Video surveillance available shows Ms. Lightner and her children from the moment they get off the airplane on every camera available until the child’s fall from the escalator,” search warrants said.

Police said Jaiden and his sister grabbed the escalator handrail and rode it up. They said the children were outside the escalator and between the steps when the sister lost her grip and fell first. Fortunately, a good Samaritan stepped in.

According to the documents, he "stated he was able to catch the little girl before she hit the floor but stated he could not catch the little boy."

Warrants said Jaiden held on all the way to the top, where the motion forced him to lose his grip.

Court documents spell out why police charged the mother, stating, "for approximately one hour prior to the fatal fall, Ms. Lightner is not observed at any point on the surveillance, retrieving her children from the escalator."

Last month, Channel 9 spoke with Lightner, who said she is devastated and grieving.

Her attorney, Michael Greene, said he thinks police are moving to charge his client because they believe she wasn’t properly supervising her children.

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“She was caring for a 4-, 3- and 2-year-old and trying to arrange a ride from the airport,” Greene said. “I’m here saying she’s not guilty of misdemeanor child abuse.”

Greene also disputed that she was away from the area.

"In order to come back, you would have had to leave. So, I don't know if they are going to have evidence of that. That's not my understanding of the facts of the case,” Greene said.

Greene said he and his client plan to fight the charges all the way.

"This is one of those incidents that could’ve happened to any one of the members of this community, and, unfortunately, the decision came down to charge her with a crime. And I’ll be here to walk her through the process,” Greene said.