It Happens Every Summer, Children Dying Alone in Cars

9 Jul

Every summer it happens. It gets hot; parents leave infants or toddlers in their car; the child dies. It has to be the most distressing news I ever hear. It drives me crazy. I understand that sometimes the police believe this is an accident. The parent honestly forgets that they have their child in the car and are overwhelmed with grief. But other times, parents intentionally leave them in the car…only for a minute, or so they say.

I have personal experience with a parent leaving two toddlers in a car for what they said was “only a minute”. I was furious. My daughter still remembers my anger.

I took my daughter and a friend of hers shopping. The girls were about 12 or 13 at the time. While my behavior during this incident totally embarrassed them, now as an adult, my daughter understands exactly why I did what I did. And she knows I did what I felt needed to be done.

We drove to a strip shopping center, where you can park directly in front of a store. Unfortunately we could not park near the store where we wanted to go, so we parked in front of a fancy linen shop.   As I got out of my car, I noticed two toddlers in car seats crying hysterically in the back seat of the car next to me. Their faces were bright red and they were in distress.

I looked at my watch and decided to wait for a few minutes. I did not want to over react, so I waited five minutes. It was obvious they had been there for a while. I was becoming extremely upset. So I marched into the store opposite of the car, assuming that the parent/guardian would probably park as close to her shopping destination as she could with two children in her car. The two girls followed behind me.

As I opened the door, I said in a loud teacher’s voice (I taught high school for a while), “There are two toddlers hysterically crying in a car outside. Is the Mom here?”

Everyone got silent. And then a woman spoke up. “They are my children. And I have only been in here a minute,” she declared.

“Not so,” I responded. “I have been waiting outside for five minutes. It is too hot for them to be stuck in a car. You better get out there now and take care of them or I am calling the police.”

“I am a nurse, and there is no problem,” she said.

Now I was enraged.

“If you are a nurse, you should know better,” I was yelling at this point. “MY husband is a pediatrician. Do you know how many children die in cars each year due to parents like you. Do you know if your children don’t die, they can become critically ill due to dehydration! If you are a nurse, you should know that!”

I pulled out my cell phone. “ You have one minute, then I am dialing 911.”

She was furious. But she handed her items to a sales woman and stomped out. I followed, phone in my hand ready to call the police.

When we got outside and she saw the screaming, crying, red and sweaty children. I think she might have been embarrassed and realized how bad it really was, because she got meekly into her car without saying another word.

But I was so mad. “Don’t ever do that again,” I said. “I have your license plate number. And If I ever see your car with children in it alone again, I will call the police immediately. I will not wait.”

She drove off. I felt like I had done my mitzvah, good deed, for the day. I hope I had saved those two children. But I had another issue to deal with now.

“Mom,” my daughter said. “That was really embarrassing. Did you have to yell at her in the store?” She and her friend were obviously uncomfortable.

“Yes, I did,” I told them. “Children can die in cars due to the heat. I honestly was concerned for the safety of those two children. And actually, perhaps calling the police would have been the right thing to do.”

We went on with our day. But it was an incident that stayed with us since then. Every summer it comes back into my mind. Did I do the right thing by not calling the police?

In the last few weeks we have seen the father leave his toddler son in a hot car. He is being tried for murder because it is alleged he planned it. Then there was a woman who called the police when she saw an infant in a hot car, unconscious. The policeman broke the window of the car to save the child.

And just recently when I took a road trip across Missouri, I noticed that the illuminated signs not only encouraged people to be careful drivers and not to drink and drive, but also to be aware of their children and not lock them in their car.

It is never a good idea to leave any age child alone in a car, even with the windows cracked. It gets extremely hot inside a car when the sun shines in, just like in a green house.

And leaving a child alone in the car with the motor running and the air conditioning on is just as bad. How many times do we hear about a car jacking with the child inside? Then an Amber Alert is issued. In most cases the child is found unhurt, but not always. It is just not safe!

If you need to go shopping, and cannot get a baby sitter…just take your child in to the store with you. Yes, it will take longer. Yes, they might fuss. But in reality a fussing child is much more easier to deal with than a dead one.

I might have embarrassed my daughter and her friend 15 years ago. However, I believe I saved those two children. And the fact that this is still happening makes me more adamant in the importance of everyone taking a stand and doing the right thing.

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2 Responses to “It Happens Every Summer, Children Dying Alone in Cars”

  1. Roseann Copeland July 13, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    Wow this is POWERFUL! Good for you Ellen that you did this. I love You!!

    • zicharon July 13, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

      Thank you! Lara and Naty were not too happy with me at the time, but over the years they understand.

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