Eight month old Shania Caradine’s father was charged on Friday with 2nd-degree murder after she died in his parked car. Joshua Blunt (25) says he forgot she was there when he went into the restaurant where he works. The child was found unconscious in the car on Thursday afternoon, and all efforts to revive her failed.
Reports have not mentioned the time Blunt began work that day; therefore there is no indication how long the infant was left alone in the car. But on hot days, according to Jan Null of San Jose State University, 10 to 20 minutes is sufficient time for cars to heat up to temperatures that a young child’s body cannot handle, even if the window is left open a bit. Adults are more able to regulate their body temperatures, but a child can quickly suffer hyperthermia (overheating or heatstroke). Even if not fatal, the child’s nervous system could be irreversibly damaged, causing permanent disabilities.
Caradine is the seventh car heatstroke fatality so far this year and the second this month alone in Mississippi. In the other case, a mother forgot to drop her child off at daycare and returned in the afternoon to pick her up, only to find the child still in the car. She was not charged and her case was considered a tragic accident, according to Madison County Sheriff Randy Tucker. It is unclear why a father was charged with murder and a mother had no criminal proceedings opened against her.
Null found that only slightly more fathers than mothers forget their children in the car (29 percent versus 34 percent). Mothers and fathers are equally likely to be charged with murder, but fathers are less likely to spend actual time in jail. Leaving a child unattended in a car is a criminal offense in only 20 states.
In most cases of death and injury due to hyperthermia, the children were unintentionally left in the cars due to a change in schedule or unexpected distraction. One case that has attracted ongoing attention concerns the death in 2014 of toddler Cooper Harris whose father has been charged with premeditated murder. After initially assuming the toddler’s death was another tragic accident, further investigation resulted in evidence pointing to the probability that his father intended for him to die. The charges filed against the father include malice murder, felony murder and first-degree cruelty toward children. In separate charges he is accused of sexual offenses against minors. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment.
In some states it is also against the law to leave a dog unattended in a car, even with the window partly open. Criminal charges can be laid.
Here are some ways to prevent forgetting a child in the back seat of the car:
- have a routine that includes checking front and back of the car, including the trunk, before locking it
- put your handbag or cellphone in the back seat while you drive with a child in the car as you are less likely to leave the car without retrieving it and, therefore, seeing a quiet sleeping baby in the car seat
- put the child’s bag or a toy on the front seat to remind you that he or she is in the car
- consider investing in a product that sets off an alarm if you leave the car with a child still in the car seat
[Photo by Vahid Salemi/AP images]