Revisited: Leaving Kids in Cars to Die

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Last month I posted my thoughts on this blog after Chandler infant Amberlee Brown was killed when her father accidentally left her in the car on a 108 degree summer afternoon. This post generated a lot of spirited debate in the comments. Almost all of us wondered how a parent could forget their three month old baby.

An AP article, "Wide Disparity in Treatment of Adults Who Leave Kids to Die in Hot Cars" posted today is a lengthy but very interesting read and analysis of this type of tragic incident.

Regarding what seems like the unfathomable act of forgetting a child, memory expert David Diamond, an associate psychology professor at the University of South Florida, and Daniel Shachter, a Harvard brain researcher, have this to say:

It's easy to forget your keys or that cup of coffee on the roof. But a child? How is that possible?

The awful truth, experts say, is that the stressed-out brain can bury a thought — something as trite as a coffee cup or crucial as a baby — and go on autopilot. While researchers once thought the different parts of the brain worked in conjunction with each other, they now realize that different portions dominate at different times.

"The value of the item is not only not relevant in these competing memory systems," says memory expert David Diamond, an associate psychology professor at the University of South Florida who also works at a Veterans Affairs hospital. "But, in fact, we can be more complacent because we tell ourselves, 'There's no way I would forget my child.'"

Harvard University professor Daniel Shachter, a leading brain researcher, says memory is very "cue dependent."

"And in these cases, the cue is often missing," he says. "When we go on automatic, it's very possible for us to ignore or forget about seemingly important things."

Like a baby.

Research aside, I'll never understand it…  

It appears that Kyle Brown, father of Amberlee, isn't going to be charged. The last news story I could find, dated July 2, said authorities were awaiting autopsy results to decide whether or not to charge Mr. Brown. I would think that in the month since Amberlee was killed, the autopsy would be complete and the decision made. The complete lack of news on this story since July 2 leads me to believe Brown will face no charges.

Other articles of interest:
Technology exists to remind caregivers there is a child in the car
Father arrested in infant car death in California.
2 deaths, 2 outcomes in heated car cases.

 

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About the Author
Jay Thompson

I'm a real estate broker in Phoenix, Arizona and the publisher of the Phoenix Real Estate Guy blog. I tend to drive too fast and scream at the University of Texas and Denver Broncos football teams. My two kids are smarter than most adults I know and my wife is simply amazing.

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  1. Mia Childs says:

    I know that when my middle child was my youngest and in care, I used to live in terror of forgetting to drop him off and driving to work and hopping out of the car and leaving him there.

    It never happened (of course) but I always worried about it – he was such a quiet toddler and wouldn't have peeped at all as I got out of the car and walked away.

    I can understand it happening – a rote task, no noisy prompts from the backseat (from some children – and babies often are quiet) and you just 'mindlessly' move on in habit.

    :shudder: that poor man – as if a prion sentence could punish him more than what he sees behind his eyes everyday :(

  2. A relative of Amberl says:

    It amazes me how people can sit in judgement on a man who made the gravest, most irreversible error of his life and condemn him without knowing anything more than what was reported on the news.

    Please let me point out that the little girl was very loved. More so than many children in this world are. Are you doing anything about that?

    I was with the parents at the hospital. I was with the parents at the funeral. And I have been with the parents in days since this tragic accident.

    I was missing her so much I couldn't sleep tonight and I come online and find people stating horrible things about her father and wishing him to go to prison. I truly wish a horrible accident like this never befalls you for you to feel the pain I am watching this father endure every second.

    I know all of us parents love to say "That would never happen to me or my child." And most of you will be right forever. But sometimes we aren't. Sometimes the worst a parent will do will only have the end result of a rash that takes 2-3 days to heal because you took too long to change your baby's diaper. Please, for one second, get off your pedastal and imagine that the unimaginable has happened to you or someone very close to you. Imagine the toll it would take on you or your loved one. Now imaging that you are scrolling the internet and find complete strangers sitting in judgement on your family. If you are doing this honestly, you realize it doesn't feel so good.

    Again, for all of you who have chosen to sit in judgement against Amberlee's father. Know first, you are not honoring her death in anyway nor are you making this world a better place. You are simply adding more negativity and we definitely do not need more of that. This is a tragic accident and the ultimate price has been paid. Nothing any of you can say or do we'll bring her back. You really want to make a difference? Don't sit here and blog. That does nothing but breed more negativity. Volunteer!!! Go to your local hospital or charity. Counsel. Do something that will be fruitful and change the world.

    I pray God will enter your heart and changed you to be the person He wants you to be. Maybe then you will find true peace and not need to sit in judgement on others.

  3. Amberlee's Relative –

    I appreciate you posting here. I can not image the pain this family has been through, nor the strength it took for you to come here and read/write.

    In the initial post, I did clearly hold the opinion that Kyle should go to jail. But if you read through all the comments, you'll see that opinion shifted. Obviously I don't know Kyle or the family. This whole story absolutely breaks my heart.

    I did not write this follow up post to sit in judgment of anyone. I wrote it for a couple of reasons. Many parents, myself included, say we can't imagine forgetting our child in a car. The article this post links to tries to explain how that can happen. I still don't understand it, because I just can't fathom doing it. I'd bet Kyle would have said exactly the same thing just over a month ago. Until we're in that situation, I don't think anyone can understand it. The experts quoted do make sense though, and as difficult as it is to understand how this can happen, their explanations do help. Also, in writing this, I am trying to help people understand and remember how important this is. If I can keep just one person from forgetting their child for one moment, then I don't think I'm just "sitting here and blogging". I think that is making a difference.

    I provided a link to some ides for prevention, and I provided a chart that shows that even on a 73 degree day a car can get hot enough to kill a child. I didn't know that before this, and maybe someone else didn't either and maybe it'll make someone think and prevent something like this from happening.

    If you read through all the comments in the original post (and I assume that would be exceedingly painful for you and understand if you can't) then you'll see some of us were trying to come up with ways to help prevent these tragedies. We we not just sitting around blogging and judging people.

    Again, I can't imagine the pain Kyle and his family are going through. I don't want to add to their pain. But I don't think ignoring this helps. I think these tragedies need to be in the public eye as a constant reminder of how easily it can happen to anyone. If that adds to Kyle's suffering, I'm sorry. But if it makes one person stop and remember their child one time, then I think it's worth it. I wouldn't be surprised if Kyle felt the same way, from everything I've heard, he is a good man.

  4. galveston says:

    I’m sure the family is in horric pain and that it wasn’t a deliberate act, but how are these deaths ever going to stop happening if the parent responsible isn’t prosecuted for negligence? What does that say about our priorities as a society that Michael Vick's dog fighting is prosecuted vigorously but negligently causing the death of your child isn’t prosecuted at all?

    Our concern needs to be for our children, not parents. I’m sorry. I’ve had too many miscarriages and have no children of my own to cherish; my well of sympathy was drained long ago. I don't wish Mr. Brown eternal strife, but no punishment for something so easily avoided? All that has to be done to prevent this type of tragedy is a parent putting a briefcase or some object he needs at his destination into the backseat so he's forced to look back there when he reaches said destination. I hope Amberlee's father finds some measure of peace. I really do, but he needs to serve time because maybe that will make the next parent think. I’m sure Mr. Brown would agree with me. Serving time might actually help him find some level of peace. It's going to be a rocky enough road for him as it is. I wish him luck.

  5. I think this is tough issue. To be honest Jay's original post changed my thinking on this a bit. It makes sense that if people are stressed their short term memory gets wiped out. Whether one agrees with dog fighting or not Michael Vick knew full well what he was doing.

    Also I'm not sure if prosecution will help. Personally, I would much rather go to jail than accidently kill my child. I mean the choices are not even in the same universe. So adding more punishment is frequently not going to deter people when the pain of losing a child outweighs most punishments the state could impose.

    Personally I think instead of relying on peoples memories I technology could solve this problem. I'm just throwing this out. And I dont think car makers should be required to do this. But I would pay extra for a car that monitors the temperature when a safety belt is engaged. If it gets to hot then it could turn on the AC. Or have the car alarm turn on.

  6. Rebafan says:

    I think that considering the family here is important. What purpose would it serve to take this father away from his other 4 children. No person would ever want this to intentionally happen to their child. In my understanding, this man will punish himself for life. How would a prison term benefit anyone? This was not a deliberate act. He did not want to forget his child, and suffers daily for it. Look at the research people ggweather.com/hyperthermia . Before the invention of the airbag there were 11 reported deaths from hyperthermia in a vehichle. Now there have been at least 299 in the 5 years since the invention. Now tell me that car makers should not be required to change the problem. The fact of the matter is that we are now putting our children in the backseat to avoid the airbag, and this in turn puts them at risk. Furthermore, if you look at the research, most people forget their child for more than 4 hours. This man forgot for 1.25 hours. That is legitimate timing to assume the child might be napping. It is absolutely ridiculous to assume that prison term would benefit him. I bet if you were closely connected to this man, you would feel very differently, knowing he is going to suffer the rest of his life. We all believe this will never happen to us, this man did not believe it would happen to him. Have some empathy and compassion. He is the one with the nightmares, every night, of what occured. He is the one wishing he could change these events every day. You merely sit in judgement for something you do not understand.

  7. Rebafan – I appreciate your comments. I encourage you to read through all of the comments, as well as the original post on this matter and you'll likely note some (but not complete) changing of attitudes.

    I must admit though, that it is somewhat ironic that you commented on this today — the day it was announced that a local police officer was arrested and charged with leaving his DOG in a car to die.

    This dog story got FAR more media attention and local outcry than poor Amberlee's story did.

    Now the cop is facing up to six months in jail. Yet no charges were filed in Amberlee's death.

    So we'll throw someone in jail for accidentally killing a dog, but not a child.

    Hmmmm…..

    Story here: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/ar

  8. Rebafan says:

    It is in regards to the dog that I was researching comments. Lets consider the facts here. The cops job was taking care of that dog, they trained together, it was a daily occurence. It was his job and partner. However, this father had a new 3 month old in a situation that was not common in his life. The father forgot for a little over an hour, a cop forgot for 13 hours. These cases are drastically different. The cop may face 6 months in jail, but that does not mean he will face 6 months in jail. Also, consider the fact that the cop may have been innappropriatly charged and is suffering as well.

    Just so you know, just because you have not heard of charges, doesn't mean they were dismissed. This case is still pending evaluation from a prosecutor. He may still face charges.

    I implore you to put yourself in this man's shoes for one day. Imagine it was you. What do you think the best justification for punishment is, honestly?

  9. "The cops job was taking care of that dog, they trained together, it was a daily occurence."

    Um, the PARENT should have been taking care of the INFANT — as a "daily occurrence"….

    The is NO EXCUSE, period, for forgetting your child – Not for 30 seconds, five minutes, or an hour.

    I can not begin to fathom how the father must feel. As I said in the other post, had I done something similar to my kid, I likely would have killed myself. I can't imagine living with that kind of guilt.

    Feeling guilty though, does not forgive a crime. Lots of criminals feel tremendous remorse over what they've done.

    In the cops situation, apparently he had just found out his son was involved in an accident. That puts him, "in a situation that was not common in his life".

    In my opinion, the argument that the father only forgot for an hour but the cop forgot for 13 is ludicrous. We're talking about a living, breathing human being here.

    "Just so you know, just because you have not heard of charges, doesn't mean they were dismissed."

    I never said they were dismissed. But there has been **nothing** in the news. The autopsy is long over. It's been over two months since Amberlee was killed. I strongly suspect that were charges going to be filed, it would have happened by now. But I'm not an attorney. One thing is certain — the dog got far swifter action than the baby did.

    Honestly, I don't know what the punishment should be for Amberlee's father. But the fact is that someone accidentally killed their dog and they've been arrested. Someone else accidentally killed their baby, and they haven't been arrested.

  10. Rebafan says:

    BTW, he was arrested for all of 1 hour and 50 minutes. Long enough to fill out paperwork and bring him before a court for charges, and then release him out of custody. Also, his case was reviewed by the county, not the city, and there are different policy's in place. Don't you think the family is frustrated by the fact that the autopsy should be completed and is not? Have you even examined the website
    http://ggweather.com/heat/index.htm

    if the justice system were completly efficient, then it would have processed these cases in order, however it is not.

  11. galveston says:

    I'm sorry, but I still favor proesecution for negligence. It's too easy to say, "He'll punish himself for the rest of his life." It's too pat. I'm sure a person who drove drunk and killed a stranger would punish himself or herself for the rest of his/her life, too…but the law would still prosecute the drunk driver. The drunk driver might have children who need his presence and income, but so what? As Jay said, the law doesn't forgive a crime because of remorse on the part of the perpetrator. Why does the "he'll punish himself enough" standard not apply to the drunk driver who happens to kill someone *else's* child?

    Why are our *own* children not worthy of justice? Short term memory "getting wiped out" doesn't cut it. "I forgot" doesn't cut it. You're the parent. You are responsible. You have to make yourself remember. If you forget your child, you have a problem. You are deficient and neglectful. I don't care how many friends and neighbors tell me what a wonderful parent Mr./Mrs. Forgetful is. What's to keep a parent who wants to get rid of a child from doing exactly this and putting on the performance of his or her life? Think about it. If you're tired and you're not the one who usually drives the baby to day care, throw your briefcase in the back seat. Throw your purse in the backseat. That's all it would take. There is no legitimate excuse for forgetting your child. None.

  12. Rebafan says:

    The difference is that the drunk driver chose to endager people when he knowingly drove a car altered. He was in an altered state of consciousness and chose to put his live at risk as well as the lives of others. Unfortunately there are parents that leave their children in cars intentionally. In some cases that is not true, that is the difference. If you drove to the grocery store, or the brothel, and left your child in the car because it was Incovenient to take him/her with you, then the situation would be different. The law enforcement exists to find those people who are lying, and to punish them. It is a sad fact that bad things happen to good people, and not every accident is a crime.

  13. Harrison Struttmann says:

    I encourage everyone who views this site to look at http://www.kidsincars.org I am the cousin of Harrison Struttmann and his parents started this foundation. I understand that parents endure emmense pain when they lose a child, but please never leave your children alone in a car, even if it is a nice day and the windows are cracked, there are so many ways a child can be injured or killed by being left alone in a vehicle, or can even injure or kill someone else. God Bless everyone

  14. Carlos Perez says:

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    My wife and I went out to eat with our two children. It was routine when stopping any where, I would automatically get my son out of my side of the car and my wife would get my daughter on the other side of the car. Not this time! My wife was on her cell phone talking to her mom and when she walked into the restaurant with my daughter missing she immediately could tell something was wrong by the look on my face. When I asked where she was, our hearts fell and we ran to the car to find her screaming and banging on the window in fear. We will never forget that moment and the worst didn’t happen to me as it has too many others.

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    August, 2003 Mikey, a 10 month old died tragically when his father left him in the back seat of his car one morning when he went to work and forgot to drop the baby off at daycare. It was the parent’s miracle baby, the last survivor of 14 embryos conceived through in-vitro fertilization but all dreams were shattered on that one busy day. http://www.4rkidssake.org/mikeysstory.htm

    August, 2007 Sophia Knutsen, a 7 month old baby died after being left in her parent’s car. Each parent had thought the other was taking care of the child, who was left in the parking lot of a Washington University School of Medicine parking lot.
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  15. MS says:

    I know a person in her fifties, who has been sober and responsible all her life. raised five children; all are grown and in good health. One day, she went to the store with her daughter, and her 8 month grand-daughter, who was in the third row seat of an astro van, in a baby seat. When they got to the store, they forgot she was with them. When they came back to the car, the police were there, and the baby was already taken to an emergency room. It was a cloudy day and it wasn’t as hot as usual. The baby was fine. a little dehydrated, but ok. Everyone is aware that the outcome could have been different. In this case, it really was an accident. Her daughter, also, was not the sort of person to do something like this, accidentally or on purpose. Three months later, a grand jury found the mother innocent, from lack of evidence. She was charged with leaving a child unattended in vehicle, a misdemeanor. The grand-mother wasn’t charged, because legally, she wasn’t responsible for the child. I am writing this, to warn every person who believes that they could never forget that they have a baby with them in the car, to realize that they could be the next person to do it. With the large vehicles, and babies being placed in back of vehicles, in rear facing seats, this is happening at an alarming rate. Back in the eighties, before people were told that the safest place for an infant was in the back of a car, in a rear facing seat, leaving children in cars, accidentally, was unheard of. The manufacturers of sensor plates, and buckle alarms, that would set off an alarm on your key ring if you get further that 10 feet from your vehicle, without your baby, are saying that the people who should have them, are the ones who think that they are too smart and responsible to ever forget a baby in a car, and won’t think it’s necessary to get one. The better alternative would be to have an alarm, built into the new cars. This would save lives.The two people who I know, who did this, also believed that they could never do this, until they did it. In my opinion, once a person is aware that that are capable of it, the chances of them doing this ever again, is zero. It’s the people who think they could never do it, or don’t believe anyone could do this, by mistake, that may be next, to do it.

  16. Mike says:

    I was missing her so much I couldn’t sleep tonight and I come online and find people stating horrible things about her father and wishing him to go to prison. I truly wish a horrible accident like this never befalls you for you to feel the pain I am watching this father endure every second.

  17. Nancy says:

    My nephew died the same way. On August 13 2008. He was 3 years old. My mom forgot him in the car. She never took him to daycare before, but this day was different.

    People hate us. But you know what… Really, we are ok with that. I'd much rather have everyone hate us than to EVER know what it is that we are going through. I cannot get mad or upset with any of them. But you know what… It really hurts to get online and read the blogs of others, those who talk about something that they dont even know about. They say "That grandmother was on drugs" or "I bet she didnt forget her smokes"…

    To tell you the truth, it could happen to anyone.

    My mom does not smoke, drink, do any type of drug and she's the kind of person who wont even move the car unless I am buckled in and I'm 21.

    She is by far the most caring person in the world. She has given everything to everyone. And she still gives. ..

    To the family of Amberlee, I am so sorry and I can relate to what you are going through. I remember when I first heard about your story… I judged ya'll. Wrongly, I know that now. How I wish I didnt.

    But I know now. I'm sorry.

    For someone who takes even the best care of their child has the ability to forget.

    And also… Find a way to make sure you dont forget… I know that there are those out there who say… I know I wont…

    You know what… Maybe you wont, but does it hurt to have a back up plan?

    They now have this thing that you put in the baby seat that sends out an alarm to your keychain if there is weight in the seat and you walk away.

    It could very well save your childs life.

    As for us, my family… We are working hard to make sure that this slows. Our goal is to keep kids from dying in car related accidents.

    Now there are things that we cannot help, but for everything else, we plan to do whatever we can to get the word out. FOR EVERYONE.

    Even if we save just ONE child, we will have accomplished something.

    Please everyone Love your babies. And take the time to REMEMBER.

    And know, Accidents happen… Plan for accidents. Catch them before you make them.

  18. Beth Brown says:

    Thank you Nancy for showing the reality of these tragedies. I appeciate the sincerity of your comments. If you want to e-mail me in the future you can contact me via Jay. I am hoping he is more than willing to provide you with an e-mail address and even my website. He is a pretty good guy after all.

    **Beth Brown´s last blog post..Jay the Phoenix Real Estate Guy</abbr></abbr>

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  1. [...] puts ethics above everything.  He selflessly promotes social causes, condemns parents leaving babies in cars, had an image of a local predator on his front page in efforts of catching him and warns parents [...]

  2. [...] of tragedy doesn’t just happen in the oppressive heat of the Phoenix summer. I posted a graph here that shows how hot (and how quickly) the interior of a car can get at various [...]

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