Fatal lapses: Parents who forget their kids in hot cars
Gene Weingarten has a gut wrenching investigative piece in the Washington Post today about parents tormented by guilt for having forgotten their children to die of hyperthermia in their car seats.
About 15-25 kids die this way each year in the United States. Some of these fatalities are attributable to parental negligence; but Weingarten's thirteen subjects were, by all accounts, loving and responsible mothers and fathers who simply got distracted at the worst possible moment.
These generally responsible parents present a quandary for the legal system. About 40% of the time, the authorities conclude that the death was a tragic accident and don't press charges. Prosecutors conclude that since there was no criminal intent, there was no crime.
In the remaining 60% of cases the parents face criminal charges ranging from manslaughter to second degree murder. The tacit assumption is that anyone responsible for such a senseless death must have somehow been culpably negligent.
You might think that only a monster or an idiot could forget their own child in a car all day. But Weingarten marshals evidence from experimental and clinical psychology to explain how an otherwise attentive parent can suffer such a catastrophic lapse. Often, the caregiver is multitasking, sleep-deprived, or adjusting to a change in routine.
The story is quite long, but I encourage you to read all the way to the end. There's an incredible payoff.
Weingarten's piece is an example of the kind of old-fashioned investigative story that most papers can't afford to fund anymore. Kudos to the Post for making the investment.