The Washington Post

A mother called 911 to rescue her baby from a hot car. The dispatcher didn’t send help.

A Florida mother found herself living out a nightmare scenario: After Shana Dees strapped her 10-month-old son into the back of her black Acura, shut the door and walked to return a shopping cart on Saturday, she realized he’d snatched her car keys and hit the lock button, Tampa’s WFTS reported.

“I was just sitting there, watching him get hotter and turn redder, and he was soaked with sweat,” Dees told WFTS, an ABC affiliate.

What happened next prompted a Tampa police investigation: Dees called 911 using a passerby’s phone, but the dispatcher didn’t send help. “It’s so hot outside. I’m concerned, like I don’t have time to call AAA before, you know, he would suffer heat exhaustion,” Dees told the 911 dispatcher. “Can somebody come out and open the door? Or I don’t even know if that is something you guys do?”

Said the dispatcher: “They won’t be able to try and gain access to the car unless the child is in some kind of distress. And by that point, they may just smash your windows.”

Dees: “Okay. Alright. Thank you.”

Dispatcher: “Okay.” A moment later, the call ended.

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Dees then encountered an off-duty cop who called 911 eight minutes after her first call. This time, a different dispatcher answered and started taking down information to send out help. “She’s a little distraught,” the officer told the dispatcher, adding: “She said she called 911 and they won’t come out unless the baby is in distress.”

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The Tampa Police Department is investigating how the first dispatcher handled the call, spokesperson Laura McElroy told The Post. Once the dispatcher returns to work, McElroy said, he will be interviewed by police officials. He also faces disciplinary action, ranging from a written reprimand to suspension, McElroy said. (The dispatcher has not been publicly identified.)

“The dispatcher failed to proactively send help to the mother,” McElory said. “He violated our policy and this is not the way we do business. It’s unacceptable.”

The department has a “black-and-white policy” in such situations: Dispatchers are supposed to take down location information and send an officer and fire-rescue personnel. “We’re all familiar with Florida heat,” McElroy said.

After the second 911 call, an officer came to the scene as another passerby smashed a window to rescue the child, McElroy said. “Thankfully, the second dispatcher did the right thing.”


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.

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

A crying child on ‘Game of Thrones’ reminded Kansas man that he left a baby in a hot car

Woman allegedly attacks strangers who saved her child from a hot car

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

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Elahe Izadi is a general assignment national reporter for The Washington Post.

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