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On Parenting
Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 03/13/2012

Karen Murphy’s punishment for hot-car death won’t prevent more parents from making this mistake

Virginia mother Karen Murphy pleaded guilty on Monday to child neglect charges in connection with last summer’s hot-car death of her toddler. She was ordered to serve six years of probation and to perform 400 hours of community service.
Stuart Monk/bigstockphoto

In the courtroom Murphy wore black, held her husband’s hand while she shook and cried before her hearing according to today’s Post story.

This is my second post this week about the death of a baby. In fact, it’s the second post about the death of a baby in Prince William County. I hate writing about baby deaths, just as I have a hard time reading about them. But both these cases point to real solutions for preventing future deaths.

Murphy is living a parent’s nightmare. She mistakenly left her son in the car one morning in June. She found him in the back of her van after she drove home from work that evening. The neighbors could hear her wails.

Because it was the second time she had left him in the car — the first time she was reminded by day-care staff that she had forgotten to drop him off — prosecutors charged Murphy with felony child abuse. That charge was later reduced to two charges of child neglect.

Charges in connection with hot-car deaths come about 60 percent of the time. These are charges for crimes that are, in most cases, the definition of unintentional. Charges that threaten punishments that pale next to what the deaths have already bestowed. Charges that come from over-zealous prosecutors trying to make some kind of high-horse point about parenting.

More than three dozen children die annually in hot-car-seat deaths, according to the Kids and Cars advocacy group. That constitutes a preventable epidemic. But we aren’t getting anywhere prosecuting random human error.

A better way to curtail hot-care death is to embrace the widespread use of new technology. A weight sensor, for instance, has been developed that would let parents know if a baby is still in the car.

Last year, Department of Transportation officials convened a meeting about hot-car deaths and experts touted the technology. They also recommended tips for any parent to use when driving with a baby in the car, such as always leaving a briefcase or wallet near the car seat, so it has to be retrieved before leaving the car.

Good advice. Far better than prosecutions, which don’t work and are absurdly redundant.

Just look at the case of Kevin C. Kelly, another Virginia parent convicted of involuntary manslaughter in connection with his baby’s hot-car death in 2002.

Kelly, who lives in Manassas, was ordered to serve one day in jail every year for seven years and to perform community service around the date of his daughter’s birthday.

Did we really need our criminal justice system to remind a father of his daughter’s death, a death he caused, on the anniversary of her birthday?

More importantly, did Kelly’s prosecution prevent more hot car deaths?

No. There were more, many more, nationwide in the years afterward.

Neither did it prevent a parent who lives about 10 miles from Kelly — Karen Murphy — from making her own terrible mistake a few summers later.

What’s your take on preventing hot-car deaths? Prosecutions? Installing sensors? Another strategy?

Related Content:

Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?

Hot car death a horrible mistake, not murder

Casey Anthony and Karen Murphy: Two kids dead, two moms charged with murder

By  |  12:45 PM ET, 03/13/2012

Tags:  Safety

 
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