Julie Taylor: There have been two cases of kids being left in hot cars recently. One child died, and the other is hospitalized. In both cases, criminal charges have been filed. But is leaving a child in a hot car a crime -- or an accident?
Jessica Holmes was charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Atrinity Hasbell, her roommate's 2-year-old daughter. According to the affidavit, Holmes had meant to drop off Atrinity at Tender Care Too daycare with her own two children. She told investigators that she'd forgotten the toddler was in the third seat of the minivan and that she'd gone on to work at another daycare. Atrinity died after being left in the hot car all day.
Pinchus Blachorsky has been charged with child neglect after allegedly leaving his 9-month-old son in a 119-degree car for more than an hour. Blachorsky apparently forgot to drop his son off at daycare, and instead drove to the learning center where he regularly studied. He realized he'd left his son in the car after his wife called him to find out where their child was. The baby is currently hospitalized and is in stable condition.
According to Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars, a national nonprofit group that advocates for child safety, roughly 36 infants and children die annually in the U.S. due to being trapped in hot cars. (Mom Raelyn Balfour, who was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter after leaving her 9-month-old son in a hot car for seven hours, shared her story with momlogic.)
How can a parent forget her child? "Everyone thinks these parents are bad or strung out on drugs, but parents who've lost their kids in these types of accidents include pediatricians, doctors, school principals, lawyers and NASA engineers," Fennell says. "For the most part, these are highly educated, extremely loving and doting parents."
She says these accidents have little to do with how good a parent is, and everything to do with how memory functions -- or doesn't function. "In the early '90s, these cases were rare," she says. "But then, in the mid-'90s, front-passenger airbags were installed in cars, and there was a huge campaign to get kids to move to the backseat. An unintended consequence of this was kids dying of hyperthermia in cars -- because children were out of sight, out of mind."
In many cases, the forgotten children are under the age of 1 and are sitting in rear-facing car seats. Their parents are not sleeping much -- which comes into play, says Fennell. "In an overwhelming majority of cases, there has been a change in routine," she adds.
Fennell says the biggest mistake parents can make is thinking that this cannot happen to them. "That's what these parents probably thought, too," she says. Fennell shares three ways to help prevent these deadly accidents:
1) Starting today, keep a teddy bear or stuffed animal in your child's car seat. Whenever your child is in the car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat as a visual reminder that your child is in the car.
2) Keep your lunch bag, employee badge or purse in the backseat. That way, you'll always reach into your backseat or open your back door when you arrive at your destination.
3) Have an ironclad policy with your daycare provider that if your child does not show up, someone will call a provided list of contacts to confirm his or her whereabouts. "In so many cases, if the daycare provider would have called, tragedy could have been averted," says Fennell.
Kids and Cars is working hard to get legislation passed that would require automakers to install weight-recognition sensors in cars that would alert parents who've left their kids in the backseat. "We won't give up until it's passed, because it would save countless lives," says Fennell.
What do you think of parents who've left kids in cars? Is it a tragic accident -- or a crime?