A Nebraska woman taking her niece out of the SUV recently was shocked when the wind blew the door shut, locking her keys and the child inside. The aunt, the girl's mom and two other relatives frantically tried to get the door open using a hanger and screwdriver, and when they couldn't, they called 911. The cops arrived, broke the window and got the child out, safe and sound.
Then they ticketed the mom on suspicion of child abuse by neglect.
The Omaha World-Herald reports that a police spokeswoman, Lt. Darci Tierney, said the ticket was not an overreaction. "We make decisions in the moment with all the information we have available,'' said Tierney. "This can be a super dangerous situation. People die in these circumstances."
But that is not true. Children die when they are forgotten in cars, not when they are about to be taken out of cars, the wind slams the door shut and the family immediately does everything humanly possible to get the door open quickly.
In fact, a 2010 study published in Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology looked at the actual circumstances surrounding the deaths of kids in non-moving cars. (Recall that the most dangerous place for a child in America is in a moving car. In 2007, 36 children died of heatstroke in cars, whereas 905 died in crashes. Maybe we should criminalize driving.)
Here's the important stat the researchers crunched: Out of the approximately 30 child deaths from hyperpyrexia each year from 1999 to 2007, the average length of time the children were in the car was 4.6 hours.
Not minutes. Hours.
You'll note that 4.6 hours is not the length of time it takes to get a rotisserie chicken or buy Christmas lights or even the 15 minutes it can take to break in to an accidentally locked car. Yet in all those cases, parents were harassed by law enforcement or actually arrested. This week brought the story of a Kenosha, Wisconsin, mom arrested for letting her kids wait in the car for nine minutes. The eldest kid was 7 — old enough to open a door if it gets too hot.
The Omaha girl in the door-blown-shut story, just shy of 2 years old, was in the car for about 15 minutes. It was a 93-degree day, and it was 97 degrees in the un-air-conditioned car. The girl appeared warm to the paramedic — um, of course she'd be warm — so she was taken to the local hospital. She was fine.
The wind, by the way, was gusting up to 40 miles an hour, something that must have been pretty obvious.
To add insult to non-injury, the police spokeswoman is quoted as reminding people that in a situation like this one, "don't be afraid to call 911 for help."
Yeah, and a defense lawyer.