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Child's death sparks debate

Both Boston papers, the Herald and the Glob, had accounts of a truly horrifying, yet all-too-common, story out of Fall River, Massachusetts. A mother drove herself to work and went in, forgetting to drop her one-year-old daughter off at day care. When the girl was discovered missing, the mother ran out to her car, but it was too late -- the girl had suffocated in the daytime heat within her SUV.

It's a horrible story, but it raises a truly difficult question: should the mother face criminal charges for her daughter's death?

On the one hand, it's a no-brainer. While Massachusetts doesn't have a "negligent homicide" statute on the books, child neglect charges certainly would cover the bill. Forgetting that one's child is strapped into the back seat of your car and leaving them in the sun for hours on end certainly ought to qualify. On the facts, it's a slam-dunk.

On the other hand, there's the "piling on" element. This mother has just lost her daughter. She has to live with the knowledge that she is responsible for her daughter's death for the rest of her life. Any penalty the state could impose on her pales in comparison to that.

I am quite torn about this, but I think I tentatively come down on the side of pressing the charges. A child has died needlessly, and justice must be served. If a jury should choose to not convict, that's their prerogative. And, perhaps, it might give the mother some solace, to serve her "penance" at the hands of the state.

But it's a hell of a tough call. I don't envy the prosecutor who has to decide this one.


Comments (33)

We had an exact same accide... (Below threshold)
JohnMc:

We had an exact same accident in 2002. A veterinarian forgot to drop his 6-month-old son off at the babysitter. He had one of those days that too much was on his mind and the child fell asleep in the backseat while he was driving. Since his mind was elsewhere and the child made no sound, his mind “assumed” that he had already dropped off the kid. If you are not a parent, you can’t relate to the temporary absent mindedness that can creep into your brain. I’m not excusing this by a long shot, but I can sympathize in how it happened.

As a result, the summer heat of the day clamed the life of the child. The county did not file any charges because the father was so distraught (and actually was placed on a suicide watch) that they felt there would be no useful purpose for prosecuting him. The father’s mental condition once the horror of the day was final was the determining factor in what the county prosecutor’s decision was.

There was no willful act of neglect or endangerment on the father’s part. Liken this case to that of another one where a mother was arrested because she left her baby locked in a car in the summer heat while she went inside a convenience store to play video poker for hours.

In the case of the vet, no good would have come of the prosecutions case and it is very unlikely that once the jury saw the devastated father in court that they would have convicted him anyway.

In the case of the mom, lock her up and throw away they key.

You have to press the charg... (Below threshold)
Joel:

You have to press the charges, because laws have to mean something. The courts have the option to throw out the charges (mitigating circumstances, etc.), but it is up to the legal system to make damn sure that no one is above the law.

I just have fleeting thoughts of a parent or parents using a hot day, a closed car and a couple of hours to "accidently" have a post-birth abortion and get off scot-free, knowing that "sympathy" could be used to cover their tracks.

Hmmmm.Then accordi... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

Then according to your point of view, Susan Smith would be an object of pity had she simply left her children to die in a locked automobile rather than drowning them.

The reason why there should be an investigation and criminal charges is to determine if it was an accident, or a very very convenient way to get rid of inconvenient kids.

If you are not a parent,... (Below threshold)
Sean:

If you are not a parent, you can’t relate to the temporary absent mindedness that can creep into your brain.

I'm a parent. That degree of "absent mindedness" is, in my opinion, criminal. "Oh officer, I had such a busy day I just forgot about my child, who I placed in the car, strapped in, and was supposed to take to daycare."

So, essentially, in between strapping this child in the car and reaching the end of the street, this mother forgot she was supposed to be on her way to daycare? That's pathetic. I am truly sorry for her loss, but that doesn't make what she did any less criminal.

Legally, there is a difference between negligence and an intentional act. You can be negligent (i.e. "neglect" someone) without intentionally acting. A good example are drug addicts. Or do you think drugged up parents who don't "intend" to neglect their kids should just be allowed to continue "raising" them?

I agree with Joel, this lady has to be prosecuted. If the jury chooses leniency, so be it.

Tough call indeed. But pro... (Below threshold)
Toby928:

Tough call indeed. But prosecutors make these calls all the time though. If in his opinion, the chances of a jury convicting are slim to none, he shouldn't file charges. If there are other circumstances involved, drug or alcohol or a monetary motive, investigate away.

Tob

There is a natural inclinat... (Below threshold)

There is a natural inclination to be sypathetic because it is the mother. But does the law address the action or the one performing it? Is it an easier call for you if we replace the mother with the nanny? The teenage babysitter? The guy who steals the car without realizing the kid is in there? (Impossible? Apparently, we are willing to believe the mother didn't realize the kid was in there...)

These stories scare the bej... (Below threshold)
brainy435:

These stories scare the bejesus out of me. I was absent minded well before I became a parent. I have a moment of panic every now and then while driving, thinking I should have my daughter strapped into her seat behind me but I left her somewhere. I can't imagine the horror parents who do this face, but I agree that charges need to be filed. Next to finding out you killed your child by being careless, a court trial probably pales in comparison no matter the outcome.

I cannot, as a mother, beli... (Below threshold)

I cannot, as a mother, believe that any woman could go however long it was without realizing she forgot her child. What kind of mother is this? You get to work and your children don't cross your mind at all once you're there? I worked for a lot of years and my children at the very least came up in conversation with co-workers, but were always on my mind regardless. This is one focused person- doesn't even notice when she gets out of the car that there's a car seat with a child in it? GIVE ME A BREAK!

It happens more often than ... (Below threshold)

It happens more often than most people realize, but when it doesn't end in death, it doesn't make the news.

The underlying cause in many cases is simple sleep deprivation. Many Americans suffer from, mostly self-induced, sleep deprivation and they're on auto-pilot throuhout most of their day. Which makes driving all the more scarey during rush hour.

The Air Force Times did a story and related sleep deprivation study on it a few years ago when an airman did the same thing. I'll try to find it in their archives when I get home and trackback to you...might not be until late tonight though.

I feel there should be char... (Below threshold)
James:

I feel there should be charges filed and it should go through the judicial process and hope and trust the court will hand out a verdict considering all factors, the judge would be much closer to the issue

I feel these should be unif... (Below threshold)
Mark:

I feel these should be uniformally and strenuously prosecuted; let the judge or jury decide. As GeoBandy said, not all suspects will be grieving mothers. Some will be baby sitters, freinds, school or daycare employees, perverted uncles, Susan Smiths, whatever. I also feel these cases should be widely publicized, as they seem to be, to keep the topic on people's minds.

It amazes me how common the problem is. For a few years, I spent a lot of time in Las Vegas where my girlfriend lived at the time. It seemed every weekend there were two or three new cases being reported in the summertime. You couldn't leave ME in an unairconditioned car in 106 degree heat for more than a minute, even with all windows down. Yet parents and babysitters were leaving infants in the cars for 15-20 minutes, only to find them roasted. These people deserve more than the natural grief they might feel.

I would sooner forget to br... (Below threshold)
frankr:

I would sooner forget to breathe than forget my daughter or son in any car for any reason. My children are 17 and 19 now, but when they were toddlers, I was always the one watching them, ready to catch them, lest they fall on the ground and hurt themselves. Here is one such story:

My mom had my son on the countertop one day while she was washing dishes. I was sitting in the kitchen, at the kitchen table, with my mom and wife between my son and myself. My son basically fell off the countertop, heading for the floor, head first. I jumped up, navigated the obstacle course that my wife and mom presented, and caught my son by his foot, inches before he hit the ground. Needless to say I thanked God that he gave me the skill and speed to do what I did that day. It still brings tears to my eyes as I type this into this blog.

Forgetting your child in the car tells me you have ALL of your priorities backward. We bring them into this world to provide for and take care of them. Too many of us take this responsibility too lightly!

Ted Kennedy left Mary Jo in... (Below threshold)
Zsa Zsa:

Ted Kennedy left Mary Jo in the car to die and nothing really happened to him? So if a mother unintentionally does this...Why bother???

Zsa Zsa, no offense, but I ... (Below threshold)
brainy435:

Zsa Zsa, no offense, but I don't see how politics has anything AT ALL to do with this topic.

This crowd of people loves ... (Below threshold)
DL:

This crowd of people loves partial birth abortion.

As sad as this is, more little girls die in Massachusetts abortionist's clinics than in SUVS and they try very hard to forget those!

Ask yourself this question:... (Below threshold)
Frank H:

Ask yourself this question: If this had been a man who had forgotten his child in the car, would you answer the question the same way?

If not, then you shouldn't ask yourself the question at all.

Out of sight, out of mind; ... (Below threshold)
Tim Mazac:

Out of sight, out of mind; the law that forces parent’s into the counterintuitive act of placing their infants into rear seats because mandated airbags are unsafe bears some responsibility for these tragedies.

One of the easiest things t... (Below threshold)
Skeptic:

One of the easiest things to do would be to for automakers to add the seat belt warning type properties to the seat belts in the back seat. When you stop the car and open the door the belted in child seat would cause an alarm to sound.

The technology exists, it would be a minimal cost to add to new vehicles being manufactured. Think of the appeal to parents of a car with "an intelligent back seat warning system".

A very good blog entry was made about this a couple of years ago by Bruce Tognazzini.

You're going to have to do ... (Below threshold)
htom:

You're going to have to do something more that check for a rear seat carrier, because most parents do not remove them with the child.

Charge her, and if the jury is silly enough to convict, bet the judge to set aside the verdict.

Or not charge her. It is, after all, her child, not the State's. At least so far.

Tim has a *very* good point... (Below threshold)
Synova:

Tim has a *very* good point. We stick the baby seats in the back... if the seat was in the front it wouldn't have happened.

Skeptic's got a good idea, you'd have to take into account that car seats are not unbuckled, though. The alarm would have to be built into the seat itself, and the first time it woke a sleeping infant it would be disabled.

To all of you parents who never were that distracted or that tired.... must be nice to be you.

It happens far too frequent... (Below threshold)

It happens far too frequently. Here in Southern California, a father, university professor, left his infant son in the car while he went to a faculty meeting. Child died.

These cases call for the wisdom of Solomon. The parents have been punished far beyond the State's power to do so.

frankr has the real answer. Parenting is a 24-hr a day job. One small moment of inattention can be disastrous. Personally, I don't see how anyone manages to do that job.

It seems the state does hav... (Below threshold)
Chris:

It seems the state does have to prosecute, because there are too many instances where sympathy can play a part. If one mother's going to work, and another is going to pick up her welfare check, guess which one will be given the benefit of the doubt? It never ceases to amaze me, however, how judgemental people can be based on reading a brief news item. There are possibly a zillion mitigating circumstances, but that doesn't stop people from declaring that no caring parent would possibly do such a thing. Obviously, most parents never do such a thing or we'd have a lot more dead babies.

I raised two girls, and I was a very responsible parent. But I can't honestly say that I thought about them every hour of every day I was at work, and I'm skeptical of anyone who claims to have done so. And frankr, all I got out of your post is that this was a great save on your part that you are still patting yourself on the back for. I bet you've told that story a million times. I just don't see what bearing it has on the topic.

Will she sue the maker of t... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

Will she sue the maker of the SUV for making them so like this? after all some idiots are suing McDonalds for making them fat

DISTRACTED???? Did she rem... (Below threshold)
ginabina:

DISTRACTED???? Did she remember her keys? Her purse? Did she lock the doors? Did she make it into the right building? And yet she couldn't remember her CHILD?

And babies supposedly being safer in the front seat is just a red herring. We'd lose far more of them because of air bag deployment and accidents caused by parents distracted by their babies while driving (coochy-cooing, etc.)

Hell ya, she'd better be charged. She allowed her child to boil to death. I don't care what her emotional state is...there is no excuse for this level of "distractedness."

What if she had been too "distracted" to feed the child? Change it's diapers? That would be neglect, wouldn't it? Cruelty, even.

Kids deserve not be an afterthought in a "distracted" parent's life.

People need to reprioritize. sheez....

I think these people do nee... (Below threshold)
Tim in PA:

I think these people do need to be charged -- but the jury/judge has the option to let them off. Otherwise, you can be damn sure people will start "forgetting" unwanted kids in their cars.

As for the circumstances... going to work, doing errands, etc., is one thing, but if she was, say, going to buy crack or something instead, then I think most of us could agree to throw the book at them.

Tim's right. This never ha... (Below threshold)
Teri:

Tim's right. This never happened until people started having to put the babies in the back seat.

I have always hated the back seat thing. It's completely unnatural and interferes with bonding and parenting.

Seems like airbags cause more problems than they solve.

Honestly, I think they shou... (Below threshold)
Misty Hill:

Honestly, I think they should stick these parents in a vehicle, roll the windows all the way up, restrain them, and let them sit in 106 degree heat, come back an hour or two later and tell them opps forgot about ya, you know I had work, shopping other really important things on my mind. Give me a freakin break! You tell me one man or woman that would last 5, 15, 30 minutes or even an hour in a vehicle like that, they wouldn't!
I have 4 beautiful daughters in ages ranging from 9 years old to 19 months old, and they are the only ones I think about, every minute of everyday, even more than my own husband. And to think that someone (especially a parent) would have the nerve to claim they had to much on their mind, that they forgot the child was even with them in the first place. You tell me the last time a women forget her purse, or cell phone, how about the milk or ice cream after a grocery shop, I'll tell ya how often, none! Even a man wouldn't leave his wallet, or his important papers he needed for that morning meeting, but yet we insist on saying awwh... they've suffered enough, she or he will have to live with it for the rest of their lives, well duh, they should, their the ones that caused the senseless, and inhuman act that caused the death in the first place.
You tell me this, what would happen if the babysitter did this? Or the nanny? Or even your best friend that was just trying to help you out while you tended to those last minute I have to pay these bills right now errands? Aren't they just as responsible for that child or children as the parents are? Guarantee, the last thing the parents are gonna do is console that person and say it's okay I know you had other things on your mind and knowing that you are responsible for killing our child is suffering enough. Reality world, how about we're gonna sue your a** and make sure the only thing your gonna see is bubba or big bertha sitting by you behind those pretty prison walls. Now that's justice!!! The kind we need in and out of our court rooms.
As parents, we are solely dedicated to make sure that the life of our child or children is that only of love, happiness, respect, truth and overall saftey. We need to step up and be the voice of that one child, who couldn't be saved, all of the children that couldn't be saved. Once we do that, maybe we as parents don't have to feel that lump in our throat, the tears in our eyes, the sadness we feel everytime we hear a childs life was lost because a parent forgot them.
Here's a little something to ponder, when was the last time an infant, baby or child forgot about their parents? They don't and they never will, so why are parents still forgetting about them?

Honestly, I think they shou... (Below threshold)
Misty Hill:

Honestly, I think they should stick these parents in a vehicle, roll the windows all the way up, restrain them, and let them sit in 106 degree heat, come back an hour or two later and tell them opps forgot about ya, you know I had work, shopping other really important things on my mind. Give me a freakin break! You tell me one man or woman that would last 5, 15, 30 minutes or even an hour in a vehicle like that, they wouldn't!
I have 4 beautiful daughters in ages ranging from 9 years old to 19 months old, and they are the only ones I think about, every minute of everyday, even more than my own husband. And to think that someone (especially a parent) would have the nerve to claim they had to much on their mind, that they forgot the child was even with them in the first place. You tell me the last time a women forget her purse, or cell phone, how about the milk or ice cream after a grocery shop, I'll tell ya how often, none! Even a man wouldn't leave his wallet, or his important papers he needed for that morning meeting, but yet we insist on saying awwh... they've suffered enough, she or he will have to live with it for the rest of their lives, well duh, they should, their the ones that caused the senseless, and inhuman act that caused the death in the first place.
You tell me this, what would happen if the babysitter did this? Or the nanny? Or even your best friend that was just trying to help you out while you tended to those last minute I have to pay these bills right now errands? Aren't they just as responsible for that child or children as the parents are? Guarantee, the last thing the parents are gonna do is console that person and say it's okay I know you had other things on your mind and knowing that you are responsible for killing our child is suffering enough. Reality world, how about we're gonna sue your a** and make sure the only thing your gonna see is bubba or big bertha sitting by you behind those pretty prison walls. Now that's justice!!! The kind we need in and out of our court rooms.
As parents, we are solely dedicated to make sure that the life of our child or children is that only of love, happiness, respect, truth and overall saftey. We need to step up and be the voice of that one child, who couldn't be saved, all of the children that couldn't be saved. Once we do that, maybe we as parents don't have to feel that lump in our throat, the tears in our eyes, the sadness we feel everytime we hear a childs life was lost because a parent forgot them.
Here's a little something to ponder, when was the last time an infant, baby or child forgot about their parents? They don't and they never will, so why are parents still forgetting about them?

Honestly, I think they shou... (Below threshold)
Misty Hill:

Honestly, I think they should stick these parents in a vehicle, roll the windows all the way up, restrain them, and let them sit in 106 degree heat, come back an hour or two later and tell them opps forgot about ya, you know I had work, shopping other really important things on my mind. Give me a freakin break! You tell me one man or woman that would last 5, 15, 30 minutes or even an hour in a vehicle like that, they wouldn't!
I have 4 beautiful daughters in ages ranging from 9 years old to 19 months old, and they are the only ones I think about, every minute of everyday, even more than my own husband. And to think that someone (especially a parent) would have the nerve to claim they had to much on their mind, that they forgot the child was even with them in the first place. You tell me the last time a women forget her purse, or cell phone, how about the milk or ice cream after a grocery shop, I'll tell ya how often, none! Even a man wouldn't leave his wallet, or his important papers he needed for that morning meeting, but yet we insist on saying awwh... they've suffered enough, she or he will have to live with it for the rest of their lives, well duh, they should, their the ones that caused the senseless, and inhuman act that caused the death in the first place.
You tell me this, what would happen if the babysitter did this? Or the nanny? Or even your best friend that was just trying to help you out while you tended to those last minute I have to pay these bills right now errands? Aren't they just as responsible for that child or children as the parents are? Guarantee, the last thing the parents are gonna do is console that person and say it's okay I know you had other things on your mind and knowing that you are responsible for killing our child is suffering enough. Reality world, how about we're gonna sue your a** and make sure the only thing your gonna see is bubba or big bertha sitting by you behind those pretty prison walls. Now that's justice!!! The kind we need in and out of our court rooms.
As parents, we are solely dedicated to make sure that the life of our child or children is that only of love, happiness, respect, truth and overall saftey. We need to step up and be the voice of that one child, who couldn't be saved, all of the children that couldn't be saved. Once we do that, maybe we as parents don't have to feel that lump in our throat, the tears in our eyes, the sadness we feel everytime we hear a childs life was lost because a parent forgot them.
Here's a little something to ponder, when was the last time an infant, baby or child forgot about their parents? They don't and they never will, so why are parents still forgetting about them?

This sort of thing happens ... (Below threshold)

This sort of thing happens here in Arizona a lot. One news reporter a year or two ago said you should put something important in the back of the car, such as your purse, so you don't forget you kid's there. How is anything more important than your kid?! Radio host Joe Crummy facetiously suggested leaving your cell phone with the kid if you're a woman, or a beer in your kid's hand (unopened, of course) if you're a guy, so you don't forget.

It's a good thing I'm not a parent, though. Having many cats, I've accidentally closed one in a room or closet (knowing before they where in there, then forgetting, it's another thing when they sneak in), then later in the day I remember they were there and panic because they've been away from food/water for a few hours (altough one of them did just fine after unknownly being closed in a room for...thre days.) I'd hate to change my absentmindedness with a child, but believe I would never forget a child, or cat, in a position which would put their life in danger...

as so many of us are parent... (Below threshold)
DaddyFrank:

as so many of us are parents and grandparents, such stories will spark that momentary thought of THANKGOD THAT WASN'T ME Once we secure ourselves in remembering that our own child could NEVER BE IN SUCH A SITUATION and tell ourselves WHAT A STUPID PERSON>> THAT PERSON SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN A PARENT, it is mostly to make ourselves feel better because the real remark should be.. there but for the simple grace of looking in the backseat Go I. None of us will truely know if it was premeditated, accidental, negligence, or even active abuse. I can only agree with JT, if it was accidential. That woman has entered Hell, if it was any of the others, No punishment by society is enough.

This is why I never wanted to be a Lawyer

Despite her loss, that she ... (Below threshold)

Despite her loss, that she caused, and will have to live with for the rest of her life, she should definitely go to jail for criminally negligent homocide in the death of her daughter. HOW THE HELL DO YOU FORGET YOUR CHILD IS IN THE CAR"? I'm a mother of 2 that are 10 years apart and there's no way they never let me know they were there with me, so there was no possible way I could forget them. Hell, I won't leave my dog in a hot vehicle. My vote? JAIL TIME

***While I never forgot whe... (Below threshold)
epador:

***While I never forgot when my first kid was in the car, I certainly forgot to both pick him up or drop him off at daycare many a time. However I always got that sinking feeling when I'd get to work or home and turn around to the inappropriately occupied or unoccupied seat. 'Course I was a Mr. Mom with a wife whose schedule didn't allow her to hit daycare in the AM or PM.

***If the child had died in an accident because they were unrestrained, would we be having this arguement? It would be another kind of carelessness.

***A mother so caught up in her desire to work, a desire that exceeded her desire to raise her child, a desire that drove her [sorry for the bad pun] to a level of carelessness that ended in her child's death, now there's a person to examine and consider. Would a jury of her peers be the appropriate group to do so, or a larger swath of society?

***Sleep deprivation is one of the many reasons our society is so error prone. The average American gets much less than the 8-8.5 hours sleep most people need. After chronic sleep deprivation, it take weeks of complete sleep to correct the deficiencies in memory, attention, and motor tasks that accompany the problem. The psychological effects, which can include depression/anxiety, take longer. Sleeping in late on the weekend does not correct the problem. Regular daytime naps may help. Caffeine can overcome some of the deficits temporarily. However, you get into tolerance problems, and and for many caffeine withdrawl problems [including headaches and depression] rather quickly if it is used daily, not to mention the contribution to insomnia.




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