The baby died, the family survived

How could a parent forget an infant in a car seat?

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Published June 16, 2009 2:16PM (EDT)

Last week, I wrote about the terrible death of Everett Carey, a 4-month-old baby from El Cerrito, Calif., whose father forgot to drop him off at daycare. To the Salon letter writers who can't understand how a parent could forget a child in a car seat, or who wonder how Everett's grieving, guilt-stricken father and heartbroken mother will be able to go on, check out the San Francisco Chronicle's compassionate profile of another mom who did the same thing.

Twenty-nine-year-old Haley Wesley's 10-month-old daughter Maddison died in her car seat in May 2007 in Napa County after her mother forgot to drop her off at daycare. Wesley pleaded guilty to child endangerment charges. As part of her three years of probation and 120 hours of community service, she's given cautionary talks about the tragedy.

The most moving part of the Chronicle story is how Haley's husband, Richie, 29, a restaurant server, rallied to support his wife, even though he'd suffered the devastating loss of their daughter through Haley's forgetfulness. "His first reaction was, 'How could you ...' But he didn't even finish that sentence," said Haley.

As her father, Rob Fenderson, recalls it, Richie told the grandparents, "Please don't say anything that would make Haley feel bad. I lost one -- I don't want to lose them both." Fenderson said of his son-in-law: "I thought a lot of him before that. But I thought even more of him after that."

The couple now has another baby girl, Peyton, born on the first anniversary of Maddison's death. When Peyton is in the back seat of the car, Hayley clips a stuffed rattling toy to her own pants as a makeshift alarm. She believes car seats should be equipped with sensors that detect weight so that an alarm could sound if the driver left a child in the seat.

A couple of dozen children a year now die of hyperthermia in the back seats of cars, like Maddison Wesley and Everett Carey. These deaths started occurring more frequently in the '90s, when new laws required that car seats be placed in the back seat to prevent injuries from airbags. To protect infants from spinal cord injuries, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that car seats be placed facing the rear of the vehicle for the first year of life.

On Sunday, a year-old baby girl in Florida died after she was left in a car for five hours, according to the Miami Herald; the child's father drove his wife to work early Sunday, but didn't realize the mother had put the child in the car seat, and thought she was at home safely sleeping in her crib, under the care of other relatives. 

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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