Hot cars and kids: Look before you lock

How can someone leave a kid in a car seat for hours in a closed-up mini-van?

That question is at the heart of the news story in Moorhead today where Christiana Sandstrom was left in the minivan for several hours and died. The Fargo Forum reports her father was taking care of his six children — all under 7 — after he’d dropped his wife off at work, and accidentally left Christiana behind.

“In bringing the children into his residence, the last and youngest child, a 5-month-old little girl, was forgotten inside the vehicle for a number of hours,” Police Lt. Tory Jacobson said.

How could this happen?

Coincidentally, and tragically, Stephanie Gray has the answer. Today she penned an essay on the Children’s Wishing Well site, explaining how it is that her son, Joel, died in a hot car.

It was the first day of her older kids’ school, and only the second day of Joel’s daycare. She wasn’t in a routine yet. Her home was being renovated. She had a law practice she was trying to juggle.

Joel was fussy, so my son did what we always told him to do. He put Joel’s pacifier in his mouth, and Joel was instantly quiet. The drop-off line at the middle school took quite a bit longer than usual because it was a new school year, and many first time parents were trying to maneuver the system. By the time I dropped my older son off, it was close to 9:00. I drove back toward my street and breathed a sigh of relief because for the first time in months I could work from home without having to juggle my four boys at the same time.

As I mentioned, this was the first full day of school for the older boys, and only the second day of day care for Joel. That coupled with my focus on my law practice made my routine completely new and different. I placed Joel’s diaper bag in the floorboard of the back seat and therefore I didn’t see it when I returned home. There was no reason for me to look in the back seat because I had dropped everyone off and I had no reminders to do so.

I worked steadily all day getting my law practice in order. It was 2:27 when I looked at the clock and realized I would be late picking up Joel at 2:30. When I arrived at the daycare and went to the door, Joel’s teacher was at the entrance with another teacher and a couple of parents were exiting the building with their children.

I looked at her and said, “I am so sorry”. I realized Joel was not with her and asked her where he was.

She looked at me puzzled and said “He isn’t here – you didn’t drop him off this morning”.

I was so utterly confused that I responded “Well where is he?”

He was in his car seat. And he was dead.

“Please be aware of the dangers and tell everyone you know,” she writes.

See also: Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?. (Washington Post)

  • Tabby

    Thank you for posting the link to the Washington Post story. It’s a heartbreaking piece, but really forces you to look at that question — “how could this happen?” And, even more difficult, to confront the misconception that this could never happen to me.

  • Starquest

    that Wash Post story won a pulitzer. Outstanding work.