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Children dying in hot cars - mistake or crime?

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vespergirl

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Date: 3/9/2009 4:15:13 PM
Author: elledizzy5

Date: 3/9/2009 4:10:28 PM
Author: lucyandroger


I thought I would copy and paste this portion of the article for people that didn''t get through it all:


***


''This is a case of pure evil negligence of the worse kind . . . He deserves the death sentence.''




''I wonder if this was his way of telling his wife that he didn''t really want a kid.''




''He was too busy chasing after real estate commissions. This shows how morally corrupt people in real estate-related professions are.''




These were readers'' online comments to The Washington Post news article of July 10, 2008, reporting the circumstances of the death of Miles Harrison''s son. These comments were typical of many others, and they are typical of what happens again and again, year after year in community after community, when these cases arise. A substantial proportion of the public reacts not merely with anger, but with frothing vitriol.




Ed Hickling believes he knows why. Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.




Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.




In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. ''We are vulnerable, but we don''t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we''ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don''t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.''




After Lyn Balfour''s acquittal, this comment appeared on the Charlottesville News Web site:




''If she had too many things on her mind then she should have kept her legs closed and not had any kids. They should lock her in a car during a hot day and see what happens.''




***




That is such a key concept that people should understand. Humans need to place blame in order to feel in control.

Same reason when people commit suicide, their loved ones blame themselves. ''If I had paid more attention, then I would''ve know they were in trouble.'' If it''s someone''s fault, then they see it as completely preventable.

Otherwise, life is out of your control, and that is a hard pill to swallow.

Thanks for highlighting that!
Well, if we are going to follow this train of thought, then people like Geoffrey Dahmer are not bad, just misunderstood. Same with drunk drivers - why should we criminalize drunk driving? No one is getting in the car INTENDING to kill anyone, so they shouldn''t be punished if they do.

It''s a totally sillly argument, because our entire society and justice system are based on judging whether those who harm others (murderers, drunk drivers, negligent parents) should be punished for the harm they do. If we don''t make an example of people who kill other people by prosecuting them, then why would anyone follow any rules? People who kill other people have fundamentally put themselves into "another category from us" already - all that we are doing is recognizing it.

And, if no one were ever prosecuted for leaving a child to cook to death in a car, most others would not hear about the risks, and be careful not to do it.
 

Lauren8211

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Date: 3/9/2009 4:17:46 PM
Author: vespergirl

Date: 3/9/2009 2:53:14 PM
Author: elledizzy5


Date: 3/9/2009 2:39:01 PM
Author: EBree



Date: 3/9/2009 2:14:26 PM
Author: elledizzy5

Personally, I think we should stop wasting effort to prosecute these people who never meant any harm, and start thinking of things to put in place so this doesn''t happen ever again.

This is preventable, but not criminal.

I agree, elle. There''s a big difference between intentional neglect and a mistake made due to exhaustion/distraction, and losing a child (on your watch, especially) is a punishment far worse than jail time or death. TGal brought up a good point: Unless you''ve known sleep-deprivation as a new parent has (and I haven''t, yet- just a few more months!), it''s hard to say whether or not you could make a mistake like this.
I don''t have kids, so I''m not about to pretend that I know what it''s like, but I know that people make mistakes. Those people who did accidentally leave their kid in a car were probably the same people who thought it could never happen. It''s a common mentality ''That could never happen to me.''

Secondly, what is with the need to criminalize everything? Are these people a threat to society? Do they deserve jail time? Do I really want 40,000 dollars a year going to put these people into jail? How is that rehabilitating?You''ve just ruined another life. Try getting a job after being put in jail for manslaughter or murder.

I doubt the recidivism rate of accidental murders is very high.
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Our jails are crowded enough as it is. I think the death of your own child due to your own negligence is punishment enough.
I see the point about incarceration. What worries me is the idea of these parents having more kids - I am so scared for the other potential children these people may have. I don''t think that they are responsible parents, and it''s terrifying to me to think that they would be allowed to parent again. In the same way that the state takes children away from poor women who neglect their children, I would like to see Lyn Balfour''s children taken from her. She is a cold, compassionless woman who is STILL multitasking like a maniac and barely paying attention to the child she has.

And in response to those who say that too many non-parents are speaking up, well, I''m a parent, and I think it''s a crime.

Also, think about how many millions of parents this HASN''T happened to. So, this whole ''brain fart memory'' BS theory is obviously not as common (or as real) as the one scientist in the article would like us to believe. There are plenty of busy, stressed-out, sleep-deprived parents who WOULD NEVER FORGET THEIR KIDS. These particular cases are extreme, but that makes me think that these people should not be trusted with other children.
I think situations where the parents are just mindless and coldhearted are the anomaly, and most are GOOD parents. I honestly believe that these are normal, everyday parents who made a terrible, terrible mistake, and will inevitably suffer emotional consequences for the rest of their lives. I just can''t get behind "No one would ever forget if they cared." People forget kids all the time, but most times it doesn''t end in death. Those stories are of course hot topics on the news, stick in your head, and really rattle you to the core. Parents forget to pick kids up all the time from school, sports, etc. Isn''t that relatively the same as forgetting to drop one off? Luckily in those instances, a teacher or a coach was around to catch the mistake.

I do think these people can be trusted with children. There was no intentional neglect.

I just can''t imagine prosecuting every parent who had a lapse in judgment. IMO, this is a social problem, not an individual one. If this is happening, then something needs to be put in place to prevent it.

If you think it''s a crime, but don''t necessarily agree with jail time, what is the proper way to address this criminally? Wouldn''t taking away their other kids cause more problems? Or do you suggest something else? Curious. It''s really a grey area, and I''m not entirely sure how exactly to handle it. I just don''t like the idea of prosecuting parents and taking away their kids.
 

lucyandroger

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Date: 3/9/2009 4:23:39 PM
Author: vespergirl

And, if no one were ever prosecuted for leaving a child to cook to death in a car, most others would not hear about the risks, and be careful not to do it.
There are much better ways to educate the public than by prosecuting people. For instance, this article can be a great educational tool. Rather, than read it and hurl insults at people we don''t know, we can internalize their lessons and make sure this never happens to us.
 

Lauren8211

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Date: 3/9/2009 4:23:39 PM
Author: vespergirl

Date: 3/9/2009 4:15:13 PM
Author: elledizzy5

That is such a key concept that people should understand. Humans need to place blame in order to feel in control.

Same reason when people commit suicide, their loved ones blame themselves. ''If I had paid more attention, then I would''ve know they were in trouble.'' If it''s someone''s fault, then they see it as completely preventable.

Otherwise, life is out of your control, and that is a hard pill to swallow.

Thanks for highlighting that!
Well, if we are going to follow this train of thought, then people like Geoffrey Dahmer are not bad, just misunderstood. Same with drunk drivers - why should we criminalize drunk driving? No one is getting in the car INTENDING to kill anyone, so they shouldn''t be punished if they do.

It''s a totally sillly argument, because our entire society and justice system are based on judging whether those who harm others (murderers, drunk drivers, negligent parents) should be punished for the harm they do. If we don''t make an example of people who kill other people by prosecuting them, then why would anyone follow any rules? People who kill other people have fundamentally put themselves into ''another category from us'' already - all that we are doing is recognizing it.

And, if no one were ever prosecuted for leaving a child to cook to death in a car, most others would not hear about the risks, and be careful not to do it.
Drinking and getting into a car is illegal, this is a KNOWN risk, and that''s why you''d be criminally negligent.

Driving with your kid in the car, or "forgetting" is not. It''s a terrible, terrible accident, but not one that I think should be equated with drunk driving.

I have to ask, are you really putting forgetful parents in the same category as serial killers? That''s just apples an oranges to me... I can''t even begin to compare the two.
 

TravelingGal

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Date: 3/9/2009 4:32:36 PM
Author: elledizzy5

Date: 3/9/2009 4:23:39 PM
Author: vespergirl


Date: 3/9/2009 4:15:13 PM
Author: elledizzy5

That is such a key concept that people should understand. Humans need to place blame in order to feel in control.

Same reason when people commit suicide, their loved ones blame themselves. ''If I had paid more attention, then I would''ve know they were in trouble.'' If it''s someone''s fault, then they see it as completely preventable.

Otherwise, life is out of your control, and that is a hard pill to swallow.

Thanks for highlighting that!
Well, if we are going to follow this train of thought, then people like Geoffrey Dahmer are not bad, just misunderstood. Same with drunk drivers - why should we criminalize drunk driving? No one is getting in the car INTENDING to kill anyone, so they shouldn''t be punished if they do.

It''s a totally sillly argument, because our entire society and justice system are based on judging whether those who harm others (murderers, drunk drivers, negligent parents) should be punished for the harm they do. If we don''t make an example of people who kill other people by prosecuting them, then why would anyone follow any rules? People who kill other people have fundamentally put themselves into ''another category from us'' already - all that we are doing is recognizing it.

And, if no one were ever prosecuted for leaving a child to cook to death in a car, most others would not hear about the risks, and be careful not to do it.
Drinking and getting into a car is illegal, this is a KNOWN risk, and that''s why you''d be criminally negligent.

Driving with your kid in the car, or ''forgetting'' is not. It''s a terrible, terrible accident, but not one that I think should be equated with drunk driving.

I have to ask, are you really putting forgetful parents in the same category as serial killers? That''s just apples an oranges to me... I can''t even begin to compare the two.
No kidding.

No one put their kid in the carseat with the INTENTION of breaking the law and being negligent. People who get drunk and get behind the wheel are breaking the law without even killing someone.

I daresay the woman who lost her child in the River Torrens would do her best to NEVER leave the stroller without the brakes on again. Parents can, and do indeed, learn from their mistakes. You just hope the mistake isn''t fatal.

Vespergirl, you could prosecute someone for forgetting their kid in the carseat, but it''s not going to stop someone else because it''s not about "following the rules." It''s about FORGETTING - something that everyone does on a daily basis. This is an extreme case, yes, but there was no intention to break any rules or to kill anyone. We do have laws about negligence, so I would understand prosecuting under those laws.
 

purrfectpear

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So we''re just going to go on the honor system here huh?

None of them thought maybe "the kids sleeping peacefully, I''ll just be in the store for 5 minutes" and then forgot about the time while they were in the store. Found dead kid, cried hysterically, panicked, and lied rather than face up to spouse and/or cops/public disapproval.

We''ll never know. Just take their word for it.
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Lauren8211

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Date: 3/9/2009 4:48:15 PM
Author: purrfectpear
So we''re just going to go on the honor system here huh?

None of them thought maybe ''the kids sleeping peacefully, I''ll just be in the store for 5 minutes'' and then forgot about the time while they were in the store. Found dead kid, cried hysterically, panicked, and lied rather than face up to spouse and/or cops/public disapproval.

We''ll never know. Just take their word for it.
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Well, honestly, that could be applied to any situation. Not just hot, locked cars.

Pools (Just went inside for a second to grab a drink...) kid drowns.
Malls (Just running into this shop for a second...) kid is kidnapped and killed.

You get the idea.

No, you can''t just trust anyone, but why is this particular situation any different than any of the other ones? I''m sure an investigation would take place, and if they found serious fault, they''d prosecute. We can''t just punish everyone because some people are lying a-holes.

When things look suspicious, we (generally) investigate, that''s a given, but you can''t just prosecute everyone because you can''t take their word. Innocent until proven guilty.

To sum up, I don''t think jail time or taking other kids away is necessarily a blanket solution to the problem. In isolated incidents, it might be.
 

TravelingGal

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Date: 3/9/2009 4:48:15 PM
Author: purrfectpear
So we''re just going to go on the honor system here huh?

None of them thought maybe ''the kids sleeping peacefully, I''ll just be in the store for 5 minutes'' and then forgot about the time while they were in the store. Found dead kid, cried hysterically, panicked, and lied rather than face up to spouse and/or cops/public disapproval.

We''ll never know. Just take their word for it.
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That could be. Which is why things should be investigated, I agree.
 

lucyandroger

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Date: 3/9/2009 4:48:15 PM
Author: purrfectpear
So we''re just going to go on the honor system here huh?

None of them thought maybe ''the kids sleeping peacefully, I''ll just be in the store for 5 minutes'' and then forgot about the time while they were in the store. Found dead kid, cried hysterically, panicked, and lied rather than face up to spouse and/or cops/public disapproval.

We''ll never know. Just take their word for it.
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If there''s a genuine disute of the facts, like the incident occurs outside of a store, then I can definitely see bringing the case to a jury and letting them make a decision.

However, in a case where the parent has an appointment with a baby-sitter but forgets to drop the kid off and parks the car at work, it''s more clearly an accident. It''s unlikely the parent thought "eh, I''ll skip the baby-sitter -- 8 hours isn''t all that long"...
 

Feralpenchant

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"And, if no one were ever prosecuted for leaving a child to cook to death in a car, most others would not hear about the risks, and be careful not to do it."

So just seeing someone on TV that lost their child because they forgot ISN''T ENOUGH to make parents more aware? They have to be prosecuted on top of that?
 

poshpepper

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This is a very thought proving, sad and tragic topic.

Let me say that #1 I am not a parent... this is of particular importance to this topic, however I still think that non-parents can have valid ideas and opinions here...

I read the entire article... it was very sad and it did seem to "side" with the tragedy of the parents that this happened to.
The article explained in scientific terms how and why this happens and how it is possible (not plausible) that this can happen to anyone.

We do not live in a black and white world... many things are varying shades of grey... this topic is one of those.
In a true sense of crime, this is one... just as a person can be charged with negligent homicide or unintentional manslaughter for "accidents".
Does this mean that these parents should be prosecuted? No... there are better ways to spend the money that would go towards prosecution on prevention.
Someone made the comparison to Drunk Driving and unintentionally leaving a child in the car... this is a similar comparison... many times a drunk driver does not intend to drive under the influence... events conspire and they end up behind the wheel (yes sometimes people plan on drinking and driving just as people can plan to leave their child in the car). Yes driving under the influence is a crime. Yes leaving your child unattended in a car is a crime by definition of the laws. A drunk driver is prosecuted regardless of intent. A person leaving their child in the car is not.

This topic has no cut and dry solution except that I think more money should be spent on taking care of the causes of this problem.
People need to get over themselves and open their minds to the possibility that this could happen and take preventive measures.
Education and awareness of this problem should be more widespread.
People should read these horror stories before they become parents (just as drivers should read the horror stores of Drunk Driving before they drive).
 

lauralu

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"Memory is a machine," he says, "and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you''re capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child."

That is a quote from the article....

I am a mother, I believe I would NOT be capable of doing this. However, from what we read about this the parents that have done this also believed they never would. A parent that has to live with the fact they did this is punishment enough in my eyes. For us to pay for the incarceration of a parent who truly made this huge, awful mistake and essentially took their own child''s life would be money wasted. Their punishment of living with what they have done. Is far worse than anything prison would hold for them.

I do not begin to know how the law would tell the difference between a parent who has done it on purpose and one who did not. If it is truly not on purpose. Than I do not believe they should be sent to prison.
 

Haven

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I read the entire article.

I think this is a horrible, heart-wrenching, tragic thing when it happens. To anyone.

I do not think it is a crime; I think it is a tragedy. What is the purpose of charging a bereaved parent with this crime? To punish him? Don''t worry--he''s already suffering enough. To warn others? What''s wrong with an ad campaign, why do we need a "criminal" in order to properly warn parents?

I know a few families who have lost young children in similar accidents--choking on popcorn at home, drowning in a pool in the backyard. These families have since been engulfed in worlds of horror and pain, guilt and anger, that have changed the way they relate to each other and to the world. They do not need a uniform and a cell to feel like prisoners, or to feel punished, they''re already there.

For what it''s worth, I''m not a parent, though I''m also not sure that this fact should invalidate my opinion on the matter.
 

partgypsy

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I am an absent minded professor type and a mom and this is my total nightmare, something like this happening. I agree with this article, it can happen, more than one would think. As someone who has worked in memory yes, memory is not perfect, and when you have sleep deprivation, stress, change in routine, a distraction at the wrong time where you check something off in your head that actually didn''t happen, it can lead to this.

Unlike people''s perceptions memory though robust in some ways is prone to error. You can very easily create false memories, or change parts of people''s memories, things that maybe the lay person would say is not possible. I don''t think accident is the right word; trajedy is more like it.
 

TravelingGal

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Date: 3/9/2009 5:36:43 PM
Author: Haven
I read the entire article.

I think this is a horrible, heart-wrenching, tragic thing when it happens. To anyone.

I do not think it is a crime; I think it is a tragedy. What is the purpose of charging a bereaved parent with this crime? To punish him? Don''t worry--he''s already suffering enough. To warn others? What''s wrong with an ad campaign, why do we need a ''criminal'' in order to properly warn parents?

I know a few families who have lost young children in similar accidents--choking on popcorn at home, drowning in a pool in the backyard. These families have since been engulfed in worlds of horror and pain, guilt and anger, that have changed the way they relate to each other and to the world. They do not need a uniform and a cell to feel like prisoners, or to feel punished, they''re already there.

For what it''s worth, I''m not a parent, though I''m also not sure that this fact should invalidate my opinion on the matter.
Just because you''re not a parent, does not mean you don''t have a valid opinion on this subject. My prior point was those who wonder how one can forget and if you can''t focus on your kids 100% of the time, don''t have children - well, they don''t really have an good idea of what parenting is like.
 

vespergirl

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Well, if we''re going to stop investigating & prosecuting "accidental" crimes, then we should decriminalize child abuse - some people are too ignorant to properly raise kids, so when they accidentally kill them after fatal beatings or starving them, we should just assume that the guilt they feel once the child is dead is enough "punishment." After all, children aren''t citizens with rights who deserve to have their preventable deaths investigated and prosecuted - they are just the parents chattel to do with what they wish - right? God knows if it was a nanny or other caregiver that mistakenly left a child in a car, they would be prosecuted. How about all of the pets that are left in cars and die? Their owners are prosecuted for animal cruelty. I believe that as a society, we owe our children at least the same justice that we owe animals, but I guess a lot of you don''t feel that way - instead we''ll just assume that all parents are going to feel bad about killing their kids, and suppose that''s punishment enough. Lyn Balfour, in the article says, I quote, "I don''t feel I need to forgive myself," she says plainly, "because what I did was not intentional." She doesn''t sound that broken up about it to me.

Many crimes are mistakes. It doesn''t make the results of these "mistakes" any less fatal. And sometimes, there is a pattern of people who leave kids in cars for "just a few minutes" that leads to being forgetful enough to leaving one in the car all day long. This horrible excuse for a parent appeared on Oprah, and is anopother one who should have her surviving child taken away.

Brenda Slaby murdered her 2 year old daughter by leaving her in a hot car all day while she was at work. Police reports indicated that she had left her child alone in a hot car several times before, "just for a few minutes," until the fatal day when she finally succeeded in killing her child. The day of the murder, she made several trips to her car while the baby was in there suffocating, but claims that she did not notice her in there. On previous occassions, she had left her baby in the car frequently enough while picking up her older child at daycare that the daycare center had sent out numerous written reminders to parents that it is illegal and dangerous to leave children in cars unattended, yet after being spoken to about it twice, she continued to do it. When she finally killed her daughter, she wasn''t prosecuted because she "acted" upset. I think that''s a complete travesty of justice. This woman was reprimanded twice before for leaving her child in a hot car, but when she did it long enough for her to finally kill the baby, the police decided that she felt bad now so she can just go on her merry way and probably kill her other kids, since that stupid b*tch didn''t get the message the first several times she was told not to leave her children to boil alive in a sealed car. This case in particular is a perfect example of why these parents need to be prosecuted, since siimply being told "don''t do it" wasn''t enough to get her to remember to take her kid out of the car.

Here is the link if you want to read about this poor child and her horrible excuse of a mother:
http://www.wcpo.com/mostpopular/story/Police-Documents-Show-Cecilia-Slaby-Had-Been-Left/cd2uvQ2uKkGdtEatCeIJTw.cspx
 

cara

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To address some of the misconceptions being posted, here is another quote from the article. (And while I can understand if some people are too disturbed to finish the whole article, the people calling the parents criminals and unfit to be parents should at least read the evidence presented in the article before condemning people.)
From the article:
"Death by hyperthermia" is the official designation. When it happens to young children, the facts are often the same: An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just... forgets a child is in the car. It happens that way somewhere in the United States 15 to 25 times a year...

Two decades ago, this was relatively rare. But in the early 1990s, car-safety experts declared that passenger-side front airbags could kill children, and they recommended that child seats be moved to the back of the car; then, for even more safety for the very young, that the baby seats be pivoted to face the rear. If few foresaw the tragic consequence of the lessened visibility of the child . . . well, who can blame them? What kind of person forgets a baby?

The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.
To be clear, it happens to mothers and fathers, wealthy and poor. This article concentrated on cases where there was no other pattern of negligence or parental substance abuse, just one-time lapses of memory in otherwise competent parents.
 

cara

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There is also a WashingtonPost chat about the article here that especially has a bit about the problems in garnering convictions in these cases. Typically even to prove negligent homicide, you need to show "callous disregard for human life" in addition to negligence. So while the parents were clearly negligent, how did the unfortunate parents show conscious disregard for life if they didn''t realize there was any life at stake? "Should have better memory" just isn''t enough for a legal conviction. In contrast, with death that results from drunk or reckless driving, the driver typically made a conscious decision to drink or speed at some point that showed the necessary callous disregard for life. Hence those are crimes.

Vespergirl, to address your specific allegation that SAHM are less likely to do this, it is probably true because of the specifics involved but can''t we stop with the mommy wars? At some point, its repulsive. These parents loved their kids and were trying to do right by them and were devastated by their role in their child''s death. Is blaming them for not staying home with their kids really a proportionate response?

You are correct that a stay-at-home-parent would be less likely to forget their child in the car for 8 hours, simply because taking care of their kid is their day job! So they don''t usually drop their kid off at daycare, and in a typical day there would be 1000 times that you, a SAHM, would wonder where your kid is if your kid were still in the car. But the parent at the office has no reason to think about their kid when going about their day, and if they happen to think of their kid, imagines the kid is happily at day care because that''s where the kid is supposed to be during the day. Many times the parent even has a memory of dropping the kid off on the morning of the tragedy because their lizard brain put that memory there. Dropped kid off the previous 500 drives to work, must have dropped off kid this morning too. But there are other variants on the tragedy, so I''m sure that SAHMs are capable of it too if given the right combination of circumstances.

I don''t have kids, but I have made enough mistakes with driving on autopilot or doing other things by rote that I think I understand how it can happen. Just normally those mistakes don''t put anyone''s life at risk. Which is why its really important to advertise to parents that it *can* happen to anyone without appropriate safety procedures and tools in place, due to the lizard part of our human brains. If everyone thinks, "oh it''ll never happen to me, I''m a good parent" or "those parents were monsters, I''m totally unlike them" then this particular manner of child death is likely to continue to occur to a small number of unfortunate families. We are all human.
 

cara

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Vespergirl, in your last post on Brenda Slaby I believe you are addressing a different issue. The Gene Weingarten article specifically did not address parents who intentially left their kids in the car for any reason - those people made a decision and are a different subgroup from people who just plain forgot the kid. Different events, different reasoning, different criminal liability. As well, the article left out cases in which there was a prior history of neglect or abuse on the part of the parents. In those instances, I think one could reach a different conclusion on the criminal liability of the parents based on the available evidence and whether or not criminal prosecution is in the best interests of society.

Specifically for the people who made no conscious choice to leave their kid in the car, how would criminal prosecution for that "crime" have deterred them or deter others in the future? They made no conscious decision. They are often in their own hell as soon as their child's death is discovered; if prosecuted, rather than grieve, they must raise money for a lawyer and work to stay out of jail. What if they have other children to raise - is society best served by throwing their parent in jail as "punishment" for their mistake? You think they would ever make such a mistake again? They are likely to be haunted by the car/child combination until the day they die. I don't see how prosecution even serves the public interest for those cases of otherwise non-negligent parents that made a single, unconscious mistake.
 

packrat

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I''m not even going to attempt to read the article b/c I know I''ll cry and think about it all night. I''ll say that I know what it''s like to be so sleep deprived that I ran into walls and doors..and couldn''t figure out how it happened b/c I thought I was walking straight. I''ve been so tired I''ve almost dropped my kids when they were little and I was up w/them to nurse all the time. I can say I''m glad I nursed both of them so I didn''t have to count to 4. B/c I couldn''t have done it. I''ve been in the bathroom in tears b/c I have to pee and am unsure if I''m awake or actually in bed sleeping and dreaming. But I also feel that even when something is an accident, someone is responsible. If you have kids, you''re responsible for them, regardless of how tired you are, or if your schedule is changed on a day.

I would never say I''d never forget my kids, or say it couldn''t happen to me. To my mind, that''s a sure fire way of inviting trouble and becoming lax. If you''re 100% positive you''d never in a zillion years do something, and 100% positive it could never in a zillion years happen to you, then you don''t need to worry about it or be concerned about it, and I feel as a parent you have a responsibility to be concerned that there is a potential for things to happen. I''m fairly certain in our teeny town that some psycho isn''t going to come take them and murder them..but that doesn''t mean I''m going to let my 5 year old be out front by herself. My gramma has a pool cover, and regardless, I''m not going to let my kids play out back at her house unattended.

As a parent you can''t prevent everything bad from happening or keep them in a bubble, but you do need to be vigilant and aware. Accidents do happen. As a parent, if I was made aware of a device for a car to help prevent kids being left in it, I''d be in line for one for each of our vehicles and anyone else who might have my kids w/them, like my parents. The device that was mentioned before, is that something that really is available?
 

MichelleCarmen

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15,880
It''s a crime. If a parent is THAT absent minded, he/she should hire a nanny to tend to the child(ren) because clearly the parent is not competent enough to do so!!!
 

vespergirl

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Date: 3/9/2009 7:23:25 PM
Author: cara
Vespergirl, in your last post I believe you are addressing a different issue. The Gene Weingarten article specifically did not address parents who intentially left their kids in the car for any reason - those people made a decision and are a different subgroup from people who just plain forgot the kid. Different events, different reasoning, different criminal liability. As well, the article left out cases in which there was a prior history of neglect or abuse on the part of the parents. In those instances, I think one could reach a different conclusion on the criminal liability of the parents based on the available evidence.
Actually, that "mother" described her forgetfulness on that particluar day identically to the parents in the Post article. Her husband normally dropped the baby off at day care, but she had to that day because he had an appointment. She was too busy remembering to buy donuts for the first day of school (she was an asst. principal) so she detoured there instead of her daughter''s daycare. When she parked the car, she went back to the trunk 7 times to retrieve boxes of donuts, apparantly without noticing her daughter asleep in the backseat of the SUV. She went about her day talking about her daughter to her colleagues, and assuming that she was at daycare, because she thought that she had dropped her off there. Nine hours later someone else discovered the dead baby in the car.

The reason I bring up her previous offenses is because who knows if these other parents hadn''t also made a habit of maybe leaving them alone for a few minutes, and thus created a habit of not getting the baby every time they got out of the car - I''m sure their attorneys would have advised them not to share that detail with the police.

I still believe that killing a child, through your own action, is a crime, whether you meant to or not. People could plead ignorance or forgetfulness on a variety of crimes - that doesn''t mean that they were not responsible for the deaths.
 

vespergirl

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Date: 3/9/2009 7:16:18 PM
Author: cara
There is also a WashingtonPost chat about the article here that especially has a bit about the problems in garnering convictions in these cases. Typically even to prove negligent homicide, you need to show ''callous disregard for human life'' in addition to negligence. So while the parents were clearly negligent, how did the unfortunate parents show conscious disregard for life if they didn''t realize there was any life at stake? ''Should have better memory'' just isn''t enough for a legal conviction. In contrast, with death that results from drunk or reckless driving, the driver typically made a conscious decision to drink or speed at some point that showed the necessary callous disregard for life. Hence those are crimes.

Vespergirl, to address your specific allegation that SAHM are less likely to do this, it is probably true because of the specifics involved but can''t we stop with the mommy wars? At some point, its repulsive. These parents loved their kids and were trying to do right by them and were devastated by their role in their child''s death. Is blaming them for not staying home with their kids really a proportionate response?

You are correct that a stay-at-home-parent would be less likely to forget their child in the car for 8 hours, simply because taking care of their kid is their day job! So they don''t usually drop their kid off at daycare, and in a typical day there would be 1000 times that you, a SAHM, would wonder where your kid is if your kid were still in the car. But the parent at the office has no reason to think about their kid when going about their day, and if they happen to think of their kid, imagines the kid is happily at day care because that''s where the kid is supposed to be during the day. Many times the parent even has a memory of dropping the kid off on the morning of the tragedy because their lizard brain put that memory there. Dropped kid off the previous 500 drives to work, must have dropped off kid this morning too. But there are other variants on the tragedy, so I''m sure that SAHMs are capable of it too if given the right combination of circumstances.

I don''t have kids, but I have made enough mistakes with driving on autopilot or doing other things by rote that I think I understand how it can happen. Just normally those mistakes don''t put anyone''s life at risk. Which is why its really important to advertise to parents that it *can* happen to anyone without appropriate safety procedures and tools in place, due to the lizard part of our human brains. If everyone thinks, ''oh it''ll never happen to me, I''m a good parent'' or ''those parents were monsters, I''m totally unlike them'' then this particular manner of child death is likely to continue to occur to a small number of unfortunate families. We are all human.
The reason that I brought up the SAHM question is because I noticed that all of these parents claimed to be distracted by work issues when these deaths occurred, and none of the parents listed in the article were full-time caregivers. I honestly feel that if you work full time, but you can''t focus on your kid for the mere 3 or 4 hours a day that you actually have to take care of them, then maybe you need to have a full-fime, live-in caregiver who is actually focused on the child''s welfare, whether that be a spouse, grandparent, nanny, whatever. TLH wrote a beautiful post urging parents to focus on their children during the time they have with them. If I were about to not see my kid for the next 8 or 9 hours while I was at work, I would certainly be paying attention to him during that precious commute time that I had my son with me. It''s very sad that these parents were too busy already being focused on work before they got there to notice where their children were. We have become a culture that''s so self-absorbed and work-obsessed that we can''t even focus on our kids during the commute to the day-care center, never mind for the first few most formative years of life until they start school. You mention that you''re sure that it could happen to a SAHM, but so far, all of the cases I read about involved working parents.
 

cara

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OK, so maybe the Brenda Slaby is a mixed case in which the mother was showing bad behavior prior to the tragedy but the critical fatal error was still one in which her brain forgot about the kid in the car! Not really sure how going back for the donuts and still missing the kid makes it any worse than it would otherwise. She didn''t make an intentional mistake, but maybe her prior risky choices could make a case for some criminal negligence. Maybe they made the right call not to prosecute in this case from the evidence in the story, maybe not, but it is much closer to the line than the ones in the story.

Which is why I think it is useful to restrict the discussion to those parents without a prior history of questionable parenting. What is the proper response to those otherwise competent, decent parents whom are responsible for their child''s death by hyperthermia? Call it a crime, prosecute them, throw them in jail, write them off as bad parents and call it a day? Or educate people about the risk, about procedures or sensors to help mitigate the risk, and try to reduce the phenomena?

Just because people are responsible for something doesn''t mean they committed a crime. We as a society get to distinguish between terrible things that should be prosecuted and terrible things that should not be prosecuted. In the hyperthermia cases discussed in the original article, I don''t see how prosecution serves the public interest.
 

cara

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Here is an example from the chat I linked to earlier. While not a SAHM and not ultimately a death, an example that its not always working parents stressed out about their day and ignoring their kids during a commute that forget their precious loved little one...
I'm a loving grandmother and a Sunday school teacher. I've forgotten my cell phone many times, and once I forgot something infinitely more precious. Almost all of the holes in the swiss cheese had lined up -- exhaustion, over commitment, taking care of others, the break in the routine, the back-facing carseat, the sleeping child, the summer day. I was just about to fall asleep when my daughter called to ask where her son was. "At the babysitter's, why?" "No he's not. The babysitter just called me."

My grandson survived the two hours in the closed car, but only by the grace of God. I could have been any one of those parents in your story. I was charged with a felony and pled guilty to a misdemeanor. I try to focus on the mercy my family and I received rather than constantly imagining what our lives almost came to be.
Vespergirl, as for your statement that you would always be interacting with your child if you had to commute with him, how exactly do you interact with a sleeping infant in a rear-facing car seat in the back of the car while driving?? That is really the heart of the matter - these deaths are related to moving car seats to the back seat from the front, which is good for protection in a crash but makes it harder for the driver to interact with or see the child, and the incidents often occur when the child is, for whatever reason, more tired than normal and thus quieter. Seems perfectly normal to me that, absent line-of-sight to the child or any sounds, the parent's mind might wander and they'd skip over some critical thing that tells them to head to the daycare center if their route or schedule was out of normal.
 

basil

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Not a crime.

I''m not a parent, but I''m a surgeon, and as such I''ve had a certain amount of experience with sleep deprivation. The worst happened this summer when I was so tired after work that I fell asleep early in my bed after dinner. When I woke up and saw that they clock said "8:45" I put on scrubs, ran out the door, and drove to the hospital at top speed, presuming I was late for my shift. Only to realize once I got there that it was 9pm, not 9am the next morning as I had assumed. Clearly not a fatal mistake, but I think it illustrates how your mind can play tricks on you and you can make mistakes that you would never have thought you could ordinarily make.

I think the hyperthermia deaths are pretty analagous to wrong site/implant surgery - when a surgeon operates on the wrong side of the body, does the wrong procedure, or uses the wrong implant. Like hyperthermia, it''s not common when you consider how many procedures are performed per year in the US or how many parents take their kids in and out of the car every day. But no one wants to do the wrong procedure and no one wants babies to die, even in small numbers.

There are safeguards in place against wrong site surgery. The surgeon puts a pen mark on the correct side before the patient goes to the operating room. The nurse checks the mark against the paperwork filled out beforehand. The patient verbally agrees to the correct side. A "time out" checklist is performed when the patient enters the operating room where all the staff have to agree to the patient''s name, the surgery being performed, and the correct side.

But despite all that, despite the fact that in general surgeons are focused on their work, wrong site surgery still occurs, and near misses even more frequently than that. The nurse drapes the wrong side at the same time that the surgeon gets paged (so isn''t watching) and the microscope is set for the other side and it happens. No one thinks it will ever happen to them. But if you read the data, it''s not negligent or sloppy surgeons that it happens to, it''s a beast of circumstance. Statistically, if you do enough cases, eventually it will happen. There was just an article written in a journal I read by a pretty famous and brilliant surgeon who nearly missed operating on the wrong side, but discovered it when the patient complained of pain. He was lucky enough to be operating under local anesthesia, which had not been administered in the incorrect side. If he had been operating under general anesthesia, he would not have been so lucky.

So what do you do to prevent these things? Should we prosecute physicians for operating on the wrong side? After all, it is a form of assault to do surgery without consent. Well, since most surgeons who this happens to get sued, I''d venture to say that medicine has experimented with the punishment method of deterrence, and it hasn''t worked. And it won''t work for hyperthermia either.

Criminalizing "forgetfulness" serves no purpose except for vindication. I can''t imagine one would make this mistake more than once. I can''t imagine one could imagine a worse punishment than has already been administered. It clearly will not deter further episodes.

So what do you do to prevent tragic accidents? You invent safety devices. Such as fire alarms, antilock brakes, or car seats. Imagine if the child weight alarm were as mandatory as a car seat or as common as fire alarms. Sure, it would go off falsely and some would disable it and some would ignore it like they ignore their car alarm. But some people''s memory would be jogged and lives would be saved. Personally, I think 15-25 child''s lives per summer is worth it.

But if you''d rather spend the R&D money prosecuting and sending parents to jail, then I just don''t know what more to say.
 

vespergirl

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I wanted to just say a couple of more things on this topic. First, once you are a parent, there is a deep, primal connection with the child that makes all mothers hyperaware of their children and the children''s safety. It''s not comparable to forgetting an item somewhere, or even making a mistake in surgery, as a doctor mentioned who previously posted. Those are items and work responsibilities, not children that you are physically and emotionally bonded to. I think that people on here who don''t have kids who are posting don''t understand the change that occurs in the brain chemistry when you become a parent, and how raising and protecting your children become your primary focus, to exclusion of everything else. It''s biological and hormonal, and not at all the same as forgetting where you put your car keys or amputating the wrong foot.

Also, a couple of people asked what I thought the appropriate punishment would be for these parents. I agree that they don''t need to be taking up space in our nation''s jails. But I think that they do need to be investigated and prosecuted. If they are acquited, fine, but I think that society owes it to the child that was killed by the parent''s "forgetfulness" to have their death investigated. If they are found guilty of manslaughter, or negligent homicide, then perhaps they can have their sentences suspended, and be forced to volunteer in community service by sharing their experiences. I think it''s important to have these incidents on their permanent records, so that they are deeply investigated before being allowed to open day care centers, foster children, adopt children, etc. I would like to see social services examine their families and keep tabs on them if they have other children in the home to make sure that another tragedy doesn''t occur. I think that we owe it to the dead children to make sure that their parents don''t repeat their mistakes, and that''s why the government needs to hold their parents accountable.
 

partgypsy

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Thank you Basil, I think that is an appropriate analogy. It''s kind of like a plane crash where multiple critical failures must occur for it to happen.
 

lauralu

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Jul 20, 2007
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699
you cannot liken this to things like drunk driving, molestation, murderers. Those things are conscious decision making events. No-one gets distracted by life events and all of a sudden ends up drunk, or molesting a child, murdering someone such as Geoffery Dahmer.

Every case investigated yes. I don''t think anyone here thinks when this happens that the police should not perform an investigation for gods sake. In the end if they find it is a case such as this one in the OP post. Than it is a sad sad tragedy in my eyes.

Case by case basis as in any case ...
 
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