A four-month-old baby girl died last weekend in Luther after being left in a hot car.
According to reports, the baby's grandmother, who has custody of the child, was taking the infant to day care, but apparently forgot to drop her off on the way to work. The woman worked all day, not realizing that she left the infant sleeping in her car seat in the car.
After work, she went to the day care facility to pick up her granddaughter. Inside, staff told her that the baby was not there and that she had not been dropped off that day. Still, they looked inside the facility for the baby before going outside and discovering her in the vehicle.
Police believe she had been dead for several hours by the time she was discovered.
The grandmother was described as "distraught" as she spoke with investigators. She has been questioned and released. The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office will submit its report to the Oklahoma County District Attorney, who will determine if any charges will be filed in the case.
According to KidsandCars.org, an average of 37 children die in hot cars each year. This year, reports indicate there have already been 29 deaths as of July 31--a record which beats the previous high of 28 deaths by July 31 in 2010. That year, there were 49 hot car deaths across the nation.
Although people tend to judge the parents and caregivers in these situations harshly, the fact is that parents can and do forget that their kids are in the car. Kids and Cars says in approximately 55% of hot car deaths, the parent did not realize his or her child was left in the car:
"[F]orgetting there is a child in the back seat is more common that many realize. When you’re stressed or lost in thought, you tend to function in 'automatic pilot.' If dropping a child off to daycare is out of your norm, and the child is quiet, you may forget."
The organization is one of many supporting the Hot Cars Act of 2017, which seeks to install visual and auditory cues in cars to signal to a parent when a child is in the backseat before the driver exits the vehicle.
In the meantime, the agency suggests the following tips for preventing the deaths of infants and children in hot cars:
- Don’t leave your child in a car, which can quickly heat up, especially on a hot, sunny day.
- Always lock your car and secure the keys so that your kids can’t get to them at home.
- Warn your kids about playing in the car by themselves without adult supervision.
- Install a trunk release mechanism, so that they can’t get trapped in the trunk.
- Make sure that child care providers and day care workers have a plan to ensure kids aren’t left in their cars or vans.
- Put a purse or briefcase in the back seat with your child so you’ll have to look behind you.
- Use reminder apps and sensor devices in addition to safety tips and common sense—not to replace them.
Criminal charges may be filed against a parent or caregiver who leaves a child unattended in a vehicle. He or she may be charged with neglect, manslaughter, or murder in such a case--particularly if the child was intentionally left in the vehicle while the parent attended to other matters (see here and here). Sometimes, when the act is a pure and simple accident, prosecutors will decline to press charges, understanding that the tragedy of losing a child is more than enough punishment.
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