At least 17 children have died after being left in hot cars this year. A look at how this keeps happening.


A 10-month-old girl died after being left inside this car in Wichita. Police said her foster parents were inside, eating pizza, smoking pot and watching “Game of Thrones.” (Matt Riedl/Wichita Eagle via Associated Press)

Who leaves a child in a hot car?

Parents on their way to work sometimes do it. So do parents who are rushing to the restroom or tackling odds and ends around the house. Sometimes, drowsy parents nod off; sometimes, the parent (allegedly) smokes pot, eats pizza and watches HBO unaware of the looming tragedy. Sometimes, children climb into hot cars and become trapped.

Two children in Houston were rescued from a hot Jeep while their mother shopped at a Postal+ store last month. In a near-miss incident in Florida last week, a 2-month-old girl was rescued from a minivan after her mother left her there while visiting a pediatrician with another child.

As many as 21 children have died in hot-car-related incidents this year. Here’s a look at some of the episodes from June, July and August.

Wichita
According to police, a crying baby on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” reminded 29-year-old Seth Jackson that his 10-month-old foster daughter was still in his Dodge Charger, parked outside his home.

Police said Jackson had been eating pizza, smoking pot and watching television when he realized that the baby, who has not been identified, was in the car with the windows rolled up. He has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the girl’s death.

He and his husband tried CPR but couldn’t open the child’s mouth, police said. He was on the phone when responders arrived.

“I left her in the car. She’s dead. She’s dead,” police reportedly heard him say.

Sarasota, Fla.
A man who dashed inside his house to grab a cellphone charger fell asleep in the home, leaving his 2-year-old daughter inside a hot car for hours, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

Uriel Hernandez was charged with felony aggravated manslaughter in connection with the death of Alejandra Hernandez-Mendoza, according to reports.

“He mistakenly left the child in the car,” Sgt. Tom Shanafelt told reporters at a news conference. “This is an extremely tragic, unfortunate event that no parent should ever have to deal with.”

Flint, Tex.
A Texas man who thought his young daughters were asleep focused on chores around the house as the girls climbed into his unlocked truck in June, according to reports.

One of the children — 4-year-old Bella — died in the vehicle. The second — 3-year-old Zoey — was treated at a hospital.

“I held my dead daughter in my arms. A big part of me knew she was gone, but my heart and soul hoped she would pull through,” Russel Lindstrom told a local news station. “Worse than losing a child is wondering if you have. Just waiting for that confirmation.”

Hurricane, Utah
Construction forced April Suwyn to park down the street from her Utah home, the Deseret News reported. Suwyn then rushed inside to use the restroom and forgot that 11-month-old Skyah Suwyn was still in the back seat. The girl, who often slept while her mother worked, wasn’t discovered until April Suwyn went to pick her sons from the babysitter.

“It was an accident,” the child’s aunt, Aimee Wright, told the paper. “If people who are being negative could even see how hard she is on herself. If they could see that she keeps saying, ‘If only. If only. If only. I wouldn’t have been out of my routine that day. If only I had gone to the gym.’ She blames it all on herself.”

Ridgefield, Conn.
A man went to work instead of dropping his young son off at day care, leaving the 15-month-old in a hot car for “an extended period of time,” authorities said in July.

“I love my husband,” the man’s wife and the boy’s mother, Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, later told the Associated Press. “Of course I forgive him. But it doesn’t mean that our lives aren’t different now. So we have to move forward with a new different reality for us, and it’s always going to be that way.”

Statesville, N.C.
A month-old boy spent about two hours in a hot car in North Carolina before he was discovered by an aunt and rushed to a hospital, according to reports.

The boy died of hyperthermia, and his parents — Sherrie Tiesha Clay and Shakee Duquan Robinson — were charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony child abuse, the Charlotte Observer reported. Police say Clay and Robinson never got the baby out of their car after returning home.

Rockledge, Fla.
Steven Darnell Lillie, 31, was supposed to drop his 9-month-old daughter off at her grandmother’s house before starting his workday in June. Instead, authorities say, he forgot Anna Marie Lillie in his pickup truck, according to Florida Today.

The girl was discovered hours later, and Lillie was charged with aggravated manslaughter.

“He’s been cooperative the whole time and he handled the arrest as well as it could be handled. He was emotional,” Donna Seyferth, a spokeswoman for the Rockledge Police Department, told Florida Today. Here is the 911 call.

Los Angeles area
A child playing in his yard climbed into a car and trapped himself as his parents and older sibling napped inside the family’s home, police told reporters in July.

“He was overcome by heat and couldn’t get out,” an officer told the Los Angeles Times. The officer said the 3-year-old’s death appeared to be a “tragic accident.”

Port Huron, Mich.
Authorities searching for a 5-year-old with Down syndrome discovered the boy on the floorboards of a neighbor’s car, lying face down, according to reports.

“I want to thank everybody for looking for my baby; he’s in a better place,” Derrick Holmon’s mother told those who had gathered at the scene, the Port Huron Times Herald reported.

The boy had been reported missing about seven hours earlier.

“It’s heartbreaking for it to end this way,” Port Huron Police Capt. Jeff Baker told the paper.

El Paso
The El Paso medical examiner ruled that the July death of a 2-year-old girl whose body was found in a hot car was an accident, the El Paso Times reported.

Around the same time as Hailey Marie Harper’s death, another El Paso area toddler was discovered in a hot car, according to a local news station. He was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Lancaster, S.C.
A 3-year-old boy who wandered off to play with a dog became trapped in a vehicle with the animal and later died in a hospital, according to reports.

“I was screaming to the top of my lungs. I didn’t know what to do,” Logan Cox’s mother, Amber Bender, told a local news station. Bender had reportedly been sleeping when the boy left the home and climbed in the vehicle.

Cobb County, Georgia
Authorities have charged Justin Ross Harris with murder in connection with the death of his toddler, saying that they suspect he left the boy in an SUV on purpose.

Harris drove to work after taking son Cooper for breakfast instead of dropping him off at day care. “I think the evidence now is showing intent,” Cobb County Police Detective Phil Stoddard said at the hearing for Harris in July.

Ardmore, Okla.
Police arrested a 42-year-old man in connection with the death of a 2-month-old who spent hours in a hot car as temperatures spiked.

Richard A. Chastain, a relative of the baby, is facing a first-degree manslaughter charge, according to reports. Heather Cooper, a Carter County first assistant district attorney, told News9.com that Chastain dropped off a 1-year-old child at day care but did not do the same for the infant.

Dolgeville, N.Y.
A 15-month-old New York state girl died in early June after spending hours locked in a vehicle that her father had parked outside her grandparents’ house, according to reports.

Police told the Associated Press that the baby’s father brought one child to a family member’s home, dropped two more off at school and drove to the grandfather’s house with the baby. He switched to a different car and drove to work, leaving the infant behind.

“It appears at this time to be an accident,” New York State Trooper Jack Keller told a local news station.” You can imagine the family is devastated when they realized what had occurred and it was a tragedy overall.”

In 2013, 43 children died from vehicle-induced heat stroke. As summer temperatures rise, here are a few simple tips from the National Safety Council to keep kids safe. (The Washington Post)

 

RELATED READING:

Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime? — Gene Weingarten’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Post Magazine feature from 2009.

People keep leaving children in hot cars. This teen thinks her invention can help.

Another hot car death: ‘I’m sick just typing that.’

Sarah Larimer is a general assignment reporter for the Washington Post.
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