Tragic Occurrence Or Intentional Murder In Hot Car Death?
Jun 24, 2014
It's been seven years since Lyn Balfour realized she left her 9-month old son in the car while she was at work, mistakenly thinking her precious baby boy with was the babysitter. The boy overheated in the backseat of the sweltering car and died.
Balfour, an analyst for the U.S. military, realized her mistake too late. Now she's devoted her life to helping other parents who have lost a child by accidentally leaving a baby in the car, and fighting to change auto laws for better safety features.
"I'm honest with them," Balfour, 42, told ABC News. "It's one thing when you lose a child. It's completely different when you lose a child and it's your fault. The pain does not go away. It's something you learn to live with."
Every summer, stories like Balfour's emerge. This week a Georgia dad was charged with felony murder after leaving his 22-month old son in a mini-SUV on a day when the temperature reached 92 degrees by noon. Every year in the U.S., an average of 38 children die after being left in a hot car, according to the nonprofit Kids and Cars.
Balfour, from Earlysville, Va., works with the organization to reach out to parents who have accidentally left their children in cars. Some face murder charges and criminal trials, while others got lucky and realized their error before the unthinkable happened. Since 2007, when her son Bryce died, Balfour has talked to about 15 to 20 parents who have gone through similar experiences, she said.
"I always tell them, you're not a bad parent," Balfour said. "No one is going to judge you more than you do yourself. I know that I did not leave my son in the car intentionally when I left that day. People tell me I need to forgive myself -- I don't feel like I have anything to forgive. I made a mistake and it cost me my son's life. But I certainly didn't leave him in the car to go bowling or to get my nails done."
Janette Fennell, the founder of Kids and Cars, says parents like Balfour are uniquely suited to help other parents who have lost a child to hyperthermia after leaving him or her in the car.
"No one understands what you're going through except someone who has gone through this," Fennell told ABC News. "They don't understand how it could happen. We try to give them as much info as possible about how their brains work, some of the science behind it. At least a portion of why this is happening is because the kids are out of sight and out of mind. They're in a rear-facing car seat. Most of them are under one. Parents that first year are so sleep-deprived. Add all these things together and it really is a recipe for disaster."
She and Balfour are fighting to get auto companies to consider a feature to help exhausted parents to remember to check the back seat, perhaps motion or weight sensors, she said.
"The auto industry already knows we're human," Fennell said. "If you don't put your seatbelt on, you get a beep. If your key is in the ignition, you get a light. Today you can't even buy a car that doesn't turn your headlights off or warns you that they're still on. It just begs the question, who decided that it's more important to not have a dead car battery than a dead baby?"