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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
TwoSetsOfTwins June 16, 2010, 2:48 AM

Every summer we hear about the tragic deaths of children who die of hyperthermia from having been left in a hot vehicle. Sadly, even the most caring and vigilant of parents are often the unwitting perpetrators of these horrendous fatalities. The annual average of U.S. child vehicular hyperthermia fatalities since 1998 is 37. Since then, 458 have been recorded. Eleven instances of child vehicular hyperthermia have already been recorded this year. You can do something about this terrible tragedy. Go to and support our cause.

Katinya July 8, 2010, 7:29 AM

This one disturbs me more than anything in the world. I started tweeting people every day asking them to check their back seats before leaving their cars. This is not an accident; it is a true crime to not take care of something so precious that God gave you to take care. An acquaintance of mine did this 1.5 years ago. I am still haunted by what her blessing went through in that car by himself. His name was Christian, and he was only 7 months old. She took 2 other blessings out of the car, but SHE FORGOT THE SMALLEST BLESSING. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Legislation must be created, car constraints, something because we cannot let this keep happening across the USA.

alexis July 25, 2010, 11:52 AM

look, call me heartless or whatever, but the parents do deserve to suffer, just like everybody else who hurts kids deserves to suffer.
the child died scared, alone, and afraid. the child cannot protect itself, the child relies on you for that.
you don’t bring your groceries in your car before the child.
you don’t assume that the spouse brought in the child, unless you can physically see them unbuckling said child before you go into the house.
yes, it is a crime. yes, they deserve to go to jail.
some may have been unintentional, tragic accidents, others may not have been though, and they’re just calling it an accident to cover it up. not all parents look out for their childs best interest.

Joe July 27, 2010, 7:57 PM

Leaving a child in a car is tragic, but not criminal. I hope all of you folks who want to send these parents to jail have never stepped away from your car with your child still in it, or didn’t quite get the seat belt properly buckled, or had a kid wander away in a store or step onto a street. Have you ever not properly latched a car door and heard the car chime? That chime may have prevented a tragedy, but there’s no alarm for leaving your baby in the car. Have you ever left a cabinet open that had anything toxic in it, or forgot to replace an outlet cover?

Which of the righteous among you is without sin?

Tiffany October 5, 2010, 10:30 AM

To those who think the parents should suffer and thus go to jail… While I cannot fathom as a mother how this happens, I am quite certain each and every one of these parents suffer greatly with or without being put in jail. I can only imagine if this happened to me, I’d be in a hell of my own making much worse than any government or judge could create or send me to. I know I would feel I deserved death too. To live with the knowledge that you caused your child pain, suffering and death should be enough to drive sane parents insane. I don’t understand why you think anyone could punish them better than themselves and why you think they are not suffering.

Online Banking October 18, 2010, 1:44 PM

I was just chatting with my friend about this the other day at Outback steak house. Don’t remember how in the world we landed on the subject really, they brought it up. I do recall eating a excellent fruit salad with sunflower seeds on it. I digress…

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Maxy March 21, 2011, 1:23 AM

I don’t know how anyone “accidentally”bakes their child in a car.ATV For Sale

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