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Babies Left in Hot Cars: Accident or Crime?

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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?

baby inside a car

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?

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29 comments so far | Post a comment now
Wendi June 7, 2010, 1:16 PM

Its a huge crime and they should be punished as such. If it is a “memory thing” then they would be forgetting other things as well. They are not forgetting to go to work and run their errands, they are forgetting their kids. The thing that is supposed to be the most important thing in their lives. How do you not think about your child. I think about mine all day long, I have always made sure they all get out of the car. Infact when they are not with me I still find myself opening the door to let them out. They are always on my mind!!! These parents need to spend more time focussing on their kids and less on themselves and other things they put before their kids.

Lisa R. June 7, 2010, 1:49 PM

Amen, Wendi! Well put! I was thinking the same things reading this article. The big problem is not passenger-side airbags or rear-facing car seats or daycare providers that don’t call to check when a child doesn’t show up. The problem is parents that are stretched too thin, doing too much, working full time (both of them), and they don’t have the TIME to be parents. Something falls through the cracks, and, disastrously, that something is their children. It’s inconceivable to me that anyone could “forget” their child is in the car with them. Yes, it’s a crime. And the minute we stop treating it as such, these kinds of cases will skyrocket. Shame on those parents. Maybe work a little less, parent a little more.

cher cher June 7, 2010, 2:13 PM

Crime plain and simple….

Anon June 7, 2010, 3:33 PM

I love it how they all seen to “forget” the child in the car.

Rachel June 7, 2010, 3:59 PM

Wow! But for the grace of God, there go I.

I am appalled at the lack of compassion in these responses! It’s awful!! Yes, the parents are stretched too thin, need to slow down, and probably need to reevaluate. However, I think the death sentence of their own child is punishment enough for the “crime” of being overwhelmed. I’ve heard that the majority of these car deaths happen when a parent is out of their normal routine…and they forget. Just that, they forget. It’s horrible. But being busy and overwhelmed is not as horrible as a clear lack of compassion for other people, as I’ve seen in the responses before mine. To me, that’s worse. I hope none of you are in a position to need the mercy of other people because of a horrible accident you caused.

stef June 7, 2010, 4:50 PM

As much as I want to blame them, its an obvious but unfortunate mistake. There is an excellent article in the washington post that explores this subject in greater death, including talking to parents who have gone
through it.

Its called “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?” by Gene Weingarten. I highly suggest it, especially for those of you who think the parents need to be punished.

It maybe easy to say “Maybe work a little less, parent a little more,” Lisa, but not everyone has that option. Unexpected costs and needs can arise at any time.

And how can anyone say that these people should be punished with more than what they will have to live with for the rest of their lives?

Charlotte Patterson June 7, 2010, 5:20 PM

I agree with you completely. There are times when parents can get too busy, and are in a rush. I am a mother, and luckily I have never forgotten my children in my vehicle for any more than a few seconds. I have gotten out of my vehicle, turned, and made it only maybe a few steps, and turned back remembering that I had brought my children with me. This being said, I can NOT understand how a parent can forget their child for any lengthened period of time. This could be five, ten, twenty minutes, or even an hour or more. With mine it is an instant rememberance, no matter what. I am never more than two or three steps away before I realize I forgot my munchkins. I have only done this twice, aqnd like I said I was only a few steps away. There is no way I could possibly go into a store and go shopping, go to a salon, or go to any other place and “forget” my children in my vehicle for a long period of time. I believe there are those people that intentionally leave their children in a vehicle to go do something, especially if it something where the child would not be welcome, such as the man who left his infant daughter in his car to go looking for a new outfit for his wife in a porn store. He should be charged and punished to the fullest extent of the law. To me this man is a sicko to put “naughty things” before his child’s well being. I also think there are those who simply forget, or do not know, such as the couple whose son died after being left in the car in the garage for over two hours because each parent thought the other had brought him in and put him to bed. Although, I do believe the smart thing to do would have been to double check on the child.

AnonymousOne June 7, 2010, 5:53 PM

How about just being a responsible parent?

anon June 7, 2010, 6:32 PM

Charlotte, if you’ve forgotten your children for just a few moments, you have still forgotten them…

Susie June 7, 2010, 8:49 PM

Or just make it a point to always check all seats when you get out of the car. I know when my two were small, I had a FEAR I would leave them in the car. I never got out of the car I didn’t look in the back seat before shutting the door.

Wendi June 7, 2010, 10:05 PM

I do have compassion, for the child that is no longer here because their parents were irresponsible. There is nothing more important than to be the protector of the innocent child that you chose to bring into this world. To say that you are stretched to thin or its out of their routine is just an excuse. Their routine should involve making sure their child is safe. I have read many of these stories in tears before, because of that poor little child and the horrible death that they go put through because someone forgot them.

calebsmum June 7, 2010, 11:41 PM

I agree, Wendi. I’m sorry, I believe in forgiveness, however my compassion is reserved for the innocent babies who have suffered a horrendous death. The fact that these are totally preventable deaths, if only the parent/caregiver would have just taken the time to put in place prevention measures, makes these cases even less tolerable. Many prevention measures exist, from just making it a habit to look in your backseat, to purchasing a baby sensor device on the market; anything to protect your child. Let’s start making our children the priority in our lives, not the myriad other tasks on our agenda.

calebsmum June 7, 2010, 11:44 PM

Oh, and there have been 9 cases already this year, not two. How fast the numbers rise, just like the temp in the car.

Renley June 8, 2010, 9:19 AM

Wendy I agree with you 100% and couldn’t have said it better. If I can remember to get my sack lunch out of the car before I get out of the car, I can certainly remember my most prized possession and the love of my life…my child.

It amazes me how we make excuses for things like this while our most precious resource continues to suffer.

carlee ramirez June 9, 2010, 10:51 AM

How can parents forget their
Lil ones that’s sad

KMH June 9, 2010, 2:07 PM

It is an accident or a crime? It is neither — it IS however, NEGLECT. You cannot excuse leaving a live person (child or otherwise) in a locked vehicle and going about your business. Medication doesn’t excuse it, nor does intoxication, or other influences that distracted the otherwise (perceived) responsible adult in charge. It is neglect.
These incidents of leaving children, toddlers, infants, school-aged kids, in cars always occur during the summertime. I am a parent of two children. I get my hair done in salons infrequently, and I go to run errands with my kids. There are many times I have wanted to leave them in the car while I run in to take care of business. But I don’t… know why? Becuase I am more afraid of police and child services than some nosy by-stander observing my behavior. The responsibility is to the adult - whether it is their child or one in trust for the moment. If you forget that, you deserve the consequences. This isn’t a teddy bear or a purse - he or she is a defenseless child; and people need to be MORE responsible!

Carin June 9, 2010, 6:06 PM

It needs to be treated as a crime! Once you actually start punishing people for doing this, maybe the “accidents” will decrease! I strongly believe that many of these incidents aren’t accidents at all, but people deciding they don’t want the “burden” of children anymore, so just leave them in a hot car all day. The general public cries “Oh that poor mother/father, how awful,” at the most they get probation and they go on living their lives. It’s the perfect child-murder scenario and you will NEVER see me have sympathy for them.

Anasis June 10, 2010, 3:29 PM

I really pray people no one would think like that Carin. It really is neglect, you could be criminally charged for leaving your Dog in the car, should we not give our childern the same respect. Each case needs to be evaluated indiviually because everyone is different.

Lisa R. June 11, 2010, 1:57 PM

Rachel, if you’re looking for compassion for the parents who are too busy to remember that they brought a life into this world & are responsible for it, you’ve obviously come to the wrong place. I agree with Wendi & Calebsmom & the others who think the CHILD (the dead child, mind you) is more important than the “poor parent” who has been “punished enough” by the loss of her/his child. The loss of that child is because of that parent; she/he should suffer. You may think I’m cold-hearted, but I disagree. Yes, things arise that people need money for; and yes, in a lot of cases both parents work out of need. But in MANY cases both parents work because they want stuff. They want to buy brand-new cars, bigger houses, pools, fancy clothes, designer everything, have the best, the most, etc. It’s not need, it’s greed. The article even said high-level, well-paid people make this mistake. It’s unconsconable to me that people forget they have children. I’m shaking my head just typing this.

Mariah June 13, 2010, 11:29 PM

Every instance has to be looked at on a case by case basis. IF the parent were drinking or abusing drugs then yes, obviously that is a crime without a doubt. However, if a child dies by drowning in the bathtub or pool, or by being run over by a parent who didn’t see them playing behind the car it is called a “terrible accident”. In most of these cases the parent wasn’t inebriated and there was no malice intended. Then again, that’s what Involuntary Manslaughter is defined as. So really, it’s very hard to say. In the end a life is lost and many other lives are destroyed b/c of this terrible accident.

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