A parent's worst nightmare

Another baby dies after being left alone in a hot car.

Published June 10, 2009 9:13PM (EDT)

From the platform where I wait for the train almost every weekday, this morning I saw a terrible shrine. In the BART station's parking lot in El Cerrito, Calif., a light post is adorned with bouquets of flowers and a piece of white butcher paper with words of condolence scribbled upon it. On Monday, a 4-month-old baby boy named Everett Carey died after being left in his car seat in the back of a Chrysler parked in that parking spot.

The outlines of this particular tragedy will be familiar to Broadsheet readers, who read Kate Harding's post this March titled "You are potentially capable of forgetting your child." Although this case has not yet been fully investigated by the local police, what apparently happened is a parent's worst nightmare.

Monday, Everett's dad, Alan Carey, a banker who commutes to San Francisco on BART, didn't drop the infant off at daycare that morning, but left him in the back seat of the car instead. It wasn't a hot day, but according to experts interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle the temperature inside the car with the windows rolled up probably exceeded 100 degrees. His mother, Anne Carey, who had recently returned to work at a Napa winery after maternity leave, went to pick him up at daycare. When he wasn't where he was supposed to be, she went to the BART parking lot and found him around 5:30 p.m. The child was pronounced dead just after 6 p.m. on Monday evening.

Nationally, about 36 children a year are trapped in overheated cars and die of hyperthermia or heat stroke. While some children are intentionally left there by negligent parents, the majority are forgotten by parents or caregivers operating on autopilot who just happen not to glance in the back seat. With summer starting, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration offers these tips on preventing hyperthermia, including asking your childcare provider to call you if, without notice, your child fails to show up, and always stowing your purse or briefcase in the back seat.

"Even with the windows rolled down two inches, it only takes 10 minutes for the inside of a vehicle to reach deadly temperatures on a hot summer day," said Ronald Medford, acting deputy administrator of NHTSA. "Children should never be left alone in or around a motor vehicle, not even for a quick errand." And let's hear it for busybodies: If you see a child left unattended in a vehicle, obviously call 911.

Coming back from a weekend away, I didn't take BART to work on Monday, but I am haunted by the many ways this story could have had a happier ending, such as another commuter passing by the car, seeing the infant and sounding the alarm. The parking lot really isn't that big. It's horrendous to think of so many people going about banal daily activities, like renting a movie at Silver Screen Video or picking up a cone at Loard's Ice Cream, while across the street a baby was dying.

Even if Everett's death was an awful accident, Alan Carey could face criminal charges, such as involuntary manslaughter or child endangerment. No charges have been filed yet. But as a parent I know that there could be no greater life sentence than knowing you'd been responsible for your baby's death in this horrible way.

Rest in peace, Everett Carey, and my condolences to your family. An online condolence guest book is here.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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