Heatstroke Deaths of Kids: Why is this Even a Thing?

There are three MClets running around MCPD.  They are wonderful and I love them beyond my ability to articulate the fullness therein.  They are not, however, without challenges.  Being a parent is the most difficult (and dangerous) job in the world.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve raised my voice to prevent seemingly imminent danger.  Whether they are teetering from a precipice and nearly falling to their doom (read: standing on a chair) or charging into the street without regard for potential hazards (read: vehicles that massively outweigh them), simply rising to the challenge of keeping them alive and relatively unscathed is not for the faint of heart.

Consequently, when I see stories and statistics of yet another defenseless and vulnerable child left in a hot car, I basically lose my shit.

Disclaimer: This one is going to sound harsh to some.  To that, I say, “Perfect.”  Maybe my seeming insensitivity will be on your mind when you arrive at your destination and remember your kid is in the car and you don’t leave him or her to die.

I’ve recently seen a few videos on-line where grown adults will sit in a vehicle with the doors closed, the car off, and the windows up to demonstrate the dangers.  On the surface, I get the sentiment behind it.  On the other hand, I can’t help but think of the lunacy of the apparent necessity of such a video.

Hey, I know heroin will end up killing you, but don’t expect to have me upload a video of me slamming junk to make the point.

But, I digress.

Recently, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office decided not to file charges against a father that left his 9-month-old son in a car all day.  You can read the details here.

Initially, I was pretty pissed off at the decision.  But the DA made the right call.

Why?

PC 273a.  (Specific to CA, mind you.  And on a side note, 30 states in this country of ours don’t have any laws at all regarding leaving children in an unattended vehicle.)

273a. (a) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, four, or six years.

Notice the key word “willfully”.  The father was allegedly “exhausted” after getting only four hours of sleep.  He forgot that he hadn’t dropped off his son at day care.  He didn’t willfully leave his son in the car.  Thus, no charges because there was no intent.

But his child is still dead…the victim of heatstroke (if not negligence).

I’m sure there’s more to the tale and what appears above is only the Cliff’s Notes of the Reader’s Digest of what happened.  I have no doubt that the Santa Clara DA’s office spent a lot of time talking about every aspect of the case.  Let’s assume they made the right call based on current law.

Real quick, let’s look at some statistics surrounding this issue:

  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2014:  20
  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2013:  44
  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke  deaths of children left in cars, 1998-present:  626
  • Average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998: 38

(Stats obtained from ggweather.com)

Something else to keep in mind, of those stats listed above, only 49% had charges filed.

Now, I’m obviously no lawyer.  But, I am a dad.  You know what I’ve never done?

Left my kid in a car for hours on a hot day.  I can’t even conceptualize it.

I’ve worked back-to-back 18-hour shifts.  I’ve been drop dead tired.  I’ve felt like a walking zombie.  I’ve had sleepless nights.  But, if I step away from my computer and look in the other room, you know what I’ll see?

Three beautiful MClets.  All alive and well.

So, what do we do?

Is it time to write a new law that removes the “willfully” part of PC 273a?  Should a law be enacted that specifically address leaving kids unattended during times of extreme weather (be it hot or cold)?

Listen, I get that it’s been deemed a tragic accident and this man has to live with this knowledge forever.  Is that enough?  Is his “mistake” enough to stop this completely preventable death from continuing to occur?

I’d say it isn’t.

The Santa Clara County DA announced their decision on Monday, July 28, 2014.  On August 1, 2014, an 11-month-old in Utah died.  From being left in a hot car.  As of this writing, the investigation is ongoing and no charges have yet to be filed.

Question: What do you think is the solution to this terrible trend? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Feature Image courtesy of Flickr and AlyBovaird

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11 thoughts on “Heatstroke Deaths of Kids: Why is this Even a Thing?

  1. Erin Nichols Lawson & Dee Wheat considering Sanctimommy (Erin) status and ensuing convo today I thought y’all would enjoy MC’s article. He’s a Police Officer in Sunny California. He’s currently a Motor Officer and he gets paid to write citations. His blog says so, however the article is worth reading. Cheers!!

  2. There was a moment, when I first became a mother. Maybe 2 weeks into being a mom. I got out of my car and started walking to wherever iwas going and realized “holy shit, I forgot her”. Turned around, sick to my stomach, got her out of the car and never “forgot” her again. I guess it can happen. But to “forget” all day?

  3. I like this guy, and I agree, the wording of this law is something that needs to be revisited. I had to laugh when he said he was lucky to get four hours sleep some days…..I can remember when I would have been grateful for just one undisturbed hour of sleep, let alone four….and yet I never “forgot” that my kids were in the car.

  4. I don’t know if there is a solution. Is there a solution to people texting and causing a fatal accident? Is there a difference?

    I’ve lived on less than 4 hours of sleep a night for a days because of a toddler and a newborn. It makes you irritable and stupid, but I always knew my kids were in the back seat. And if I loaded groceries in the car, (or whatever), I never shut the car doors until I was IN the car myself. Not going for mother of the year here, but just like not leaving knives where little kids can get them because of the potential consequences, you don’t shut kids in a car by themselves. Ever.

    Just sayin’

  5. I do not know the right thing to do is……the knowledge that you KILLED your kid would haunt most people all of their life…..so, I feel pity for the parent who did it….on the other hand…you KILLED you kid because of a stupid action.you are the adult. I only locked my baby in the car once….laid her on the back seat to change a diaper…..left keys on the seat…right next to her….from that day forward….I put the keys on the ROOF…..

  6. I ran a call just like this a few weeks ago. Mom forgot her one month old in the car for 30 minutes before someone noticed. I thought the same thing: How is this even possible. I found this article a few days after that call and it has change the way I feel about it. Apparently it happens to people from all walks of life. The article is long but well worth the read.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/fatal-distraction-forgetting-a-child-in-thebackseat-of-a-car-is-a-horrifying-mistake-is-it-a-crime/2014/06/16/8ae0fe3a-f580-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html

  7. For years and years, I have shared with people to put their left shoe in the rear floorboard when they have their kid(s) in the car … and I do it myself since I rarely drive with my wife’s vehicle with my grandson in the back. While I have yet to forget my grandson is back there prior to my socked foot hitting the pavement, I recognize that due to stress/distractions/etc … there is a possibility I could “zone out” temporarily … but I would never be zoned out to the fact I would leave my car without my shoe (since I would immediately notice that)

  8. You can legislate everything but to quote one of my favorite comedians “You can’t fix stupid”. I can’t see any penalty being worse than living with the knowledge that you did this to your kid. If “willfully” enters the picture, then any additional penalties are earned and deserved. Maybe a tattoo on the back of one or both hands that says “Darwin Award” would be sufficient.

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