Ad­vo­cates urge back-seat alarms as 2 die in Ari­zona

The Maui News - - TODAY’S PEOPLE - By SALLY HO The As­so­ci­ated Press

A pro­posed law that would re­quire car­mak­ers to build alarms for back seats is be­ing pushed by ad­vo­cates who say it will pre­vent chil­dren from dy­ing in hot cars.

The law also would stream­line the crim­i­nal process against care­givers who cause the deaths — cases that can be in­con­sis­tent but of­ten heav­ier­handed against moth­ers.

The lat­est deaths came in Ari­zona on triple-digit de­gree days over the week­end, with two baby boys found for­got­ten in ve­hi­cles in sep­a­rate in­ci­dents.

More than two dozen child and road safety groups are back­ing the U.S. Se­nate bill in­tro­duced last week aimed at pre­vent­ing those kinds of deaths by re­quir­ing cars to be equipped with tech­nol­ogy that can alert driv­ers if a child is left in the back seat once the ve­hi­cle is turned off. It could be a mo­tion sen­sor that can de­tect a baby left sit­ting in a rear-fac­ing car seat and then alert the driver, in a sim­i­lar way that re­minders about tire pres­sure, open doors and seat belts now come stan­dard in cars.

“The tech­nol­ogy would help be­cause if you’re in a ve­hi­cle, your child is in the back seat, and you ig­nore that alarm: Go to jail. Do not pass go. You had a chance,” said Janette Fen­nell of the ad­vo­cacy group Kids and Cars. “You talk to any of the judges, they’ll tell you, they’re be­yond the hard­est things they have to deal with.”

Po­lice say 1-year-old Josiah Rig­gins was in the car for hours Saturday, dis­cov­ered dead only af­ter his fa­ther drove twice be­tween their sub­ur­ban home and a Phoenix church to drop off the in­fant’s mother and a sib­ling.

Zane En­dress, who was 7 months old, died Friday in Phoenix af­ter be­ing left in the car in the drive­way at home, as his usual day care drop-off rou­tine was lost by his grand­par­ents.

“A sim­ple sen­sor could save the lives of dozens of chil­dren killed trag­i­cally in over­heated cars each year, and our bill would en­sure such tech­nol­ogy is avail­able in ev­ery car sold in the United States,” said bill spon­sor Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, D-Conn. “It can take mere min­utes on a hot day for a car to turn into a death trap for a small child.”

No charges have been filed against the care­givers in ei­ther Ari­zona case, as po­lice say the death in­ves­ti­ga­tions are un­der­way. De­tec­tives will de­ter­mine crim­i­nal­ity based on the care­giver’s ne­glect, in­tent and mind­set, while also be­ing sen­si­tive to the fam­ily’s deeply felt loss of a child, Phoenix po­lice Sgt. Mercedes For­tune said.

“Those are the very dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Each case is dif­fer­ent. I can’t tell you there’s a set an­swer for any case be­cause there re­ally isn’t,” For­tune said.

Kids and Cars, which has tracked more than 800 chil­dren who have died in this way since 1990, said crim­i­nal cases vary greatly, even when the cir­cum­stances are iden­ti­cal. Fen­nell said 90 per­cent of cases in­volve pure ac­ci­dents, most likely a child for­got­ten by an adult.

In July alone, a Ten­nessee cou­ple was charged in the death of its 11-month-old daugh­ter. A nearly 2-year-old boy was found dead in his fa­ther’s BMW in south Florida.

The non­profit’s anal­y­sis shows charges are filed about half of the time, though very rarely are the par­ents found guilty ob­jec­tively be­cause it was proved that the child was left be­hind to be harmed. There is also a noted gen­der bias: Moth­ers are more of­ten charged than fa­thers, and among the con­victed, women care­givers re­ceive longer pri­son sen­tences than men, the study found.

“It’s also a de­fense mech­a­nism. If I make mon­sters out of th­ese peo­ple, then it could never hap­pen to me,” Fen­nell said.

AP file photo

Cobb County po­lice in­ves­ti­gate an SUV where a tod­dler died near Ma­ri­etta, Ga., on June 18, 2014, when the fa­ther for­got to drop his child off at day care and went to work. A pro­posed new law that would re­quire car­mak­ers to build alarms for back seats is be­ing pushed by child-safety ad­vo­cates who say it will pre­vent chil­dren from dy­ing in hot cars and also stream­line the crim­i­nal process against care­givers who cause the deaths.

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