Spring Valley father charged with criminally negligent homicide in baby's hot-car death
By Nancy Cutler, Rockland/Westchester Journal News,2023-05-31
SPRING VALLEY - The 21-year-old father of a baby found dead May 9 after she was left in a car for hours has been charged with criminally negligent homicide.
Spring Valley Police did not release his name nor information on future court dates. The car was parked on Ridge Avenue in the village at the time of the incident.
A person convicted of criminally negligent homicide faces up to four years in prison and possible fines.
The 1-year-old was found around 4:39 p.m. and police were told the girl had been left unattended in the family vehicle for several hours.
Hers was the third hot-car death reported in the U.S. in 2023, as of May 9. Since the Spring Valley baby's death, four more children have died after being left in hot cars, according to the nonprofit Kids and Cars Safety.
According to Kids and Car Safety, more than 1,050 children have died in hot cars nationwide since 1990. Last year alone, 36 children died.
Tragic, but not uncommon
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicular heatstroke is one of the leading causes of non-crash-related fatalities among children.
Warmer temperatures mean more kids and families are at risk.
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In July 2019, New City twins died after they were left strapped in their car seats at their father's work in the Bronx. Juan Rodriguez, distraught at the discovery, said he believed he had dropped off the twins at daycare.
Rodriguez later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of second-degree reckless endangerment, with a one-year conditional discharge. He and his spouse have since worked to educate people about the risks of hot-car deaths.
How hot-car deaths happen
David Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa, studied the phenomenon of parents forgetting children in cars for about 20 years.
His research shows that the brain can go on autopilot during routine tasks — like taking children to daycare on the way to work — but that an interruption can cause a false memory, making one believe the routine task was completed.
Fatigue and stress can add to memory issues.
Amber Rollins, director of Kids and Car Safety, expressed concern about criminal charges in such cases.
"When people see criminal charges in these cases, they believe it will not happen to them because they are not criminals," Rollins said. "These accidental deaths should be viewed as a public health issue, not a criminal issue."
A "hot car" provision in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law requires updated rules for new vehicles to mandate check-rear-seat alerts when a vehicle is shut off.
Many vehicle manufacturers already offer alert systems.
Kids and Car Safety offers these safety tips:
- Open the back door every time you park to ensure no one is left behind.
- Place items like work badges, laptops, phone in the back seat.
- Make sure it's clear who is getting each child out of the vehicle.
- Ask your childcare provider to call right away if your child hasn't arrived as scheduled.
"Effective and available technology to detect the presence of a child trapped inside a hot car must be required as standard equipment in all new cars immediately," Kids and Car Safety said in a statement.