When a child dies in America, America bleeds a little. When a child dies in America due to senselessness and irresponsibility, America bleeds a lot. This is particularly true for the blessed children whose angel wings shine in the national spotlight after a tragic hot car death. It is almost one year since 22-month-old Cooper Harris died in the national spotlight after his father Ross Harris left him to die a horrifying and tragic hot car death in Cobb County, Georgia, in June 2014. The Newtown Patch reported May 25 that Ross Harris is not an isolated incident. The Newtown Patch reported yesterday numbers that suggest if this year’s statistics are anything like last year, more than 30 more children will die before the end of summer due to senseless and careless mistakes. Since the death of Cooper Harris and other children that suffered hot car deaths, law makers, policy writers, and law enforcement have responded with intensity in their efforts to stop this bleeding.
The Newtown Patch reported yesterday on critical information that parents should have on hand when it comes to this deadly tragedy. These are prevention tips and reminders for caregivers to help them not forget their children. Do caregivers really need reminders? With over 38 children in America dead last year because of this problem, it seems that they do.
A WTVY report on May 24 shows that some law enforcement agencies are already cracking down on prevention of hot car deaths. We are also learning that legislators are joining the cause for change in an era where hot car deaths appears to be an epidemic. Hot car deaths have now gone political with zero tolerance bills and prevention campaigns across America.
Additionally, members of the national community are working to raise awareness and memorials to make sure these tragedies never happen again. Will it be enough?
The Dothan Police in Alabama are committed to making sure they never have to respond to a hot car death call again. The Dothan Police in Dothan, Alabama, is one group of law enforcement setting out a “stern message” to parents this summer according to a WTVY report on May 24.
State representatives from Georgia have also been busy writing new laws that will create deterrents to caregivers that leave children in vehicles. We have also learned that a community park in Cobb County, Georgia, that is being established to memorialize Cooper Harris is now undergoing opposition of its own. The death of Cooper Harris has now gone political.
In order for change to happen in America after a tragedy like this, it needs to start with the justice system. The Dothan police in Alabama are one agency in the justice system that is committed to being part of the prevention of hot car deaths campaign. The new Chief of Police of Dothan Police Department Steve Parrish recently told WTVY,
“Our officers are going to do everything they can to make sure this doesn’t happen, especially during hot weather. Leaving them behind will not be tolerated.”
The number of hot car deaths in America seems to rise every year. It isn’t going to happen in Dothan again if the new police chief has anything to say about it. After a hot car death tragedy occurred in their community in 2011, Dothan Police are now working to prevent these deaths from happening.
Dothan Police are sent to patrol shopping malls and parking lots looking for unattended children. And they are vigilant. It was just a few years ago in 2011 when a four-year-old had been left in his parent’s SUV in the parking lot of his own home.
The image of a child’s hands “scarred” from trying to escape a sauna of dehydration, is not one they will likely forget any time soon. Nor will his parents who were involved in a domestic dispute and had separated for the day. Each of them thought the other was with the unattended child.
The state threw the book at both parents. Both were charged with manslaughter and the father was acquitted while the wife served a four year prison sentence. The State of Georgia also plans to do the same to Ross Harris, who is facing malice murder and felony murder charges in the death of his son.
Ross’s only defense known thus far is that he allegedly “forgot” to take his son to day care. But parents with a rational brain everywhere are saying, “How is that even possible?” Ross Harris has only recently escaped the death penalty on this case, after it was lifted by the prosecutor in question.
But he is nowhere near off the hook. Ross Harris sits in Cobb County Jail awaiting trial, as he has been since the day his son died June 18, 2014. Officer Peters of the Dothan Police Department in Alabama expressed his outrage over parents like this to WTVY,
“It makes me angry. These are innocent children who don’t have a voice or the ability to protect themselves.”
Anger is a very typical reaction by the public when it comes to these cases of hot car deaths. Ross Harris is going to need to come up with a stronger defense than, “duh, I forgot”, when he faces what is likely to be a very angry jury. Generally speaking, stupidity is not a defense that is known to win over juries.
Meanwhile, changes at the society and political level are afoot to prevent this kind of stupidity impacting defenseless American children again. Devices have been developed or are in development that can help parents and caregivers in this regard. As well, policy makers and legislators are working to make harsher laws for caregivers who transport children.
The researchers at Rice University have been working on a device that can remind parents to put their children first. WTVY reports the device is an accessory that attaches to a car seat and alerts parents when the temperature inside the vehicle reaches a deadly point. Sound, visual, and text alerts are sent to parents when in vehicle levels reach a certain point.
The device even has a backup cooling system that works to cool down the child’s core temperature until rescue or medical assistance is on hand. It’s a great idea, in theory. Would a device like that have helped Cooper Harris?
Perhaps. Ross Harris was reportedly sexting multiple women while his son baked to death in his car. If an alert came to his phone, he may have caught his son in time with a device like that.
But, that is only if he was paying attention, and only if the phone he was using was the one he signed up for the car seat service with. What are the chances that the phone Ross used for his every day taking care of his kid phone, was the same phone he used for sexting multiple women and minors on the day that his son died?
We will find out soon enough. The biggest problem with the rise of hot car deaths is that they are not paying attention to something as major as an entire human being in their car. Will alerts and devices help?
They won’t hurt. So they will keep being developed. Meanwhile, policy makers are working to create stricter laws on what happens to people that are that….forgetful.
Alabama law enforcement aren’t the only ones cracking down on those responsible for hot car deaths. The crackdowns are happening at the law enforcement level, and beginning to creep up to the policy maker and legislative level. And, it seems, any discussion or project that crops up as a result of a hot car death, quickly becomes political as well.
Already it appears that the case of Ross Harris is going to experience some politics, and maybe even some arguments Constitutional in nature. In February of this year, prosecutors in the case against Ross Harris asked the judge on the case to prevent “any Cobb County agency” from releasing information on the case according to WSB TV. Cobb County Deputy Chief District Attorney Jesse Evans told WSB TV about the request. He said,
“It came with an explicit threat that there would be a lawsuit filed against anyone involved in denying open records requests. In other words, this issue’s not going away to persist.”
This is not unlike the Jodi Arias trial, where politics and the Constitution were threatened when a convicted killer commanded the courts to bow to her demands. Many secrets were at the heart of this trial, with many records and court hearings going under seal. Will the same happen with Ross Harris?
Time will tell. Already, the media outlets that have made the open record requests have suggested they are prepared to sue if the information isn’t made public, as the Constitution allows. Attorneys for Channel 2 Action News in Cobb County have objected to this, citing open records requests violations and saying any potential seal is “too broad.”
Judge Mary Staley on the case against Ross Harris has ruled a decision will be made after the prosecution “files a very specific motion in this case” according to WSB TV. While this was going on, WSB TV reports in the same report that legislators in the State Capitol were working on stiffer penalties for caregivers that leave children unattended in vehicles.
Democratic Senator Donzella James specifically has told the Senate that there are already laws in place to address this, but she feels they are not enough. She told the Senate,
“We want to make sure those young babies who are in cars, 6 and under, will be protected and will not be left in the car alone. I want it to be a felony every time you leave that child, especially if something happens to it. I was hoping that someone would see from that unfortunate incident [Cooper Harris] that we need to have stronger laws….There’s no law on the books that says anything about a child left unattended.”
And, with the growing incidence of these cases, maybe there should be. The website Kids and Cars says that already 2 cases have been reported in the United States in 2015. In 2014, 38 cases were reported where children died a hot car death.
In March of this year part of Donzella’s law was passed by the Senate, allowing a charge of child cruelty in the third degree to be applied to those that leave children unattended. Donzella’s law also makes it illegal for children to be left alone with someone under the age of 13. The bill has not yet been to the House for approval.
Senator Donzella James is not the only lawmaker working for tougher laws on offendors. Representative Sandra Scott notes that many of these tragedies occur at the day care level. In the case of Ross Harris, he claims he simply “forgot” to take his son to day care minutes after having breakfast with him at the Chick Fil A.
Instead of taking his son to day care that day, Ross Harris drove to work, and had a full work day. All the while, his 22-month-old son Cooper Harris baked to death in his car on June 18, 2014. On that day, Georgia temperatures reportedly reached 33 degrees Celsius outside, that is roughly 92 degrees Fahrenheit.
A website resource for parents called Kids and Cars says that, on a hot summer day, it would only take approximately 10 minutes for the inside temperature of a vehicle with closed windows to reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Medical Examiner reports on hot car death children last year estimated it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours for a child to bake to death, or die of hyperthermia if left unattended in a car. And it is not a sweet passing.
Most of the time, anyone left inside a vehicle in those conditions would die. Some children do survive.
Cooper Harris is not the only angel baby that suffered a hot car death in recent years. Such was the case for Jazmin Green, the inspiration behind Representative Sandra Scott’s Jazmin Green Act. Jazmin Green was left behind in a day care vehicle in Atlanta in 2011, and did not survive.
Since then, Atlanta Democrat for the House Sandra Scott has been fighting for the Jazmin Green Act. This is a bill that would legislate alarms on day care vehicles. Scott first introduced this legislation in 2013. Its first round in the Senate was not successful, however Scott is hoping to reintroduce it in the 2016 session.
The House may want to get on this soon. The Clayton News Daily reported May 22 that it was just May 5 of this year when 2-year-old Zaryaha Emile suffered severe dehydration after being left in a day care vehicle. Zaryaha survived, but suffered significantly. A number of day care workers were charged in that incident.
Democrat Scott is hoping that laws for required vehicle devices would reduce or eliminate the number of incidents like this. But how long does she have to wait for this to happen? How many more children need to suffer before legislators do something about it?
The alarm system that Scott is hoping for will alert caregivers to an unattended child immediately. She wants the alarm installed at the rear of the vehicle, and monitors that each child seat in the car has been checked. The alarm would not stop ringing until all seats have been checked.
It is a system that would require workers to spend a few extra minutes of checking. But if that is your child in the seat, and you are paying a caregiver to attend to them while you are working, you want them to take that extra few minutes. If Ross Harris had spent a few extra minutes checking his car, we would not be talking about the politics on his case today. Democrat Scott says,
“There is no way to know if this will be the cure all solution. However, it is an added layer of precaution for our precious children. I don’t know a single parent who would not pay for the alarm system themselves if they thought it meant more safety, not only for their child, but for all of Georgia’s children.”
The owner of the day care in question in this case was convicted of reckless conduct and sentenced to 90 days jail time. She also must serve 100 hours community service, and is also being ordered to lecture other day care providers on the consequences of not doing your job right. The owner’s daughter, who also worked at the daycare, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
That woman was sentenced under First Offender laws, and will spend her 10 year sentence on probation. Seemingly a slap on the wrist to parents that have lost their most precious gift of all. Legislators are working to create harsher sentences for those responsible for such careless acts.
Communities also are working harder every day with awareness campaigns and the like to ensure children all over America are protected. But, the communities of angels looking out for children that are left behind are not strictly left to law enforcement and politicians. Members of the community themselves are outraged that someone could be so senseless when it comes to responsibly caring for a child in a vehicle in the summer months.
A random twitter search on hot car death laws reveals outrage from the community that this keeps happening. The public is demanding that Congress do something about this in terms of creating harsher sentencing guidelines for those guilty of leaving animals or children unattended in a hot car. Some members of the community are working at the municipal level to create awareness and change in regards to hot car deaths.
One member of the community that we have spoken with has been working on awareness for hot car deaths in the wake of the Cooper Harris tragedy. This individual wants hot car deaths to stop now, and does not want to wait for the Senate and the House to get their Acts together. Additionally, this very special community member wants Cooper Harris to be remembered in a positive and productive way that honors a lost child, and creates a memorial that also launches awareness.
Last summer after the death of Cooper Harris, Roxs Bourgeois had a dream. She wanted a memorial park created for Cooper Harris, and one that included an awareness initiative to help make sure this stopped happening in America. She was even on a team that wanted to launch a bill titled “Coopers Law.” Initially, Roxs joined with a group of women that stated they had the same dream. The group tried to raise money for the park, and support for a Bill, but after just a few weeks in action, and very little transparency on where the funds were going, the “foundation” that was supposed to be for Cooper Harris folded and all monies were refunded.
But that didn’t stop Roxs Bourgeois. Soon enough, another angel came on board to help her see her dream for Cooper Harris materialize. Developer Keith McSorely, a Cobb County resident, heard of the Cooper Harris park dream and set out to help Roxs, and the Cobb County community find a positive way to remember Cooper, and create awareness on a growing, and preventable tragedy in America. He also offered to cover the multi-million dollar cost of the park, so Roxs woldn’t have to worry about fundraising or phony foundations any more.
And the dream of a park for Cooper became the dream of Cobb International Village. Cobb International Village is a proposed development in Cobb County that will offer a state of the facility to Cobb residents for health, recreation, and sustainability. One section of the plans for Cobb International Village includes a park that will be called Cooper’s Cove.
For Roxs, it will be a dream come true. Cooper’s Cove, originally named Cooper’s Treehouse Park, will be a park that is shady, for the shade that Cooper never had that fateful day on June 18, 2014. It will have all of his favourite things, including a big red firetruck, and most importantly, it will be cool. Roxs also plans on establishing an awareness campaign, and products and merchandising that parents on site can purchase to avoid the carelessness of unattended children. We spoke with Keith McSorely earlier this year.
He told us the entire village itself would include mentoring programs, concerts, events for the family, and will include an international food service program to meet the diverse needs of a growing community. It is also a LEEDS project, which means it is completely sustainable, energy conscious, and very green. All good things for a community. But, like many municipal projects, this project is one that is meeting opposition. 11 Alive News reported on that May 11 of this year.
11 Alive describes the entire proposed facility as a multi-use development. But, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and Planning has been receiving petitions against the development. The petition cites excessive traffic and noise as reasons for denying the permits for the development.
That petition has collected just over 600 signatures against the park. The folks at Cobb International Village planning however have started their own petition. The number of signatures on that petition will reach over 900 very soon, suggesting that support in favor of the park is currently out weighing support against.
Keith McSorely told 11 Alive that the section of the park that will be devoted to Cooper will honor Cooper, and raise awareness to prevent future tragedies. There is some frustration at the planning level that a park with such good intentions would meet political opposition, but McSorely is determined to carry on. As is Roxs Bourgeois. She has established a Facebook page for Cooper’s Treehouse Park where you can join her on her journey. She told us,
“There are a lot of people that really don’t understand what a great park this will be for them and the community and how generous Keith and his team are. Instead they want to say that he’s doing it for profit and other negative things because they really don’t understand the man behind this… Their putting their own spin on what the park is about and none of it is true – that’s the sad part of it.”
We will continue to follow the course of the politics of Cobb International Village and the journey of Cooper’s Cove. We hope to be reporting on its opening in the very near future. Politics is a timely process, which is interesting in itself. Politics is supposed to be about exacting positive change to create a lasting legacy, so why wait? Why wait on an issue that could kill a child tomorrow?
Over 35 American children are dead within the last 12 months because of this problem and Congress and Councils and Commissions seem to be just sitting on things. Why?
The biggest political question surrounding this project is obvious. Why would there be such opposition to anything that could prevent these deaths from happening? This question repeats itself the Congressional level. It’s a no brainer.
Why is Congress not taking this more seriously? How many tax dollars are spent between missions and meetings and covert ops to catch and consequence one person who killed 5 in a serial killing spree? Who is fighting for justice for those 35 plus new American angels?
Cooper’s Cove is a project that could help to bring some sense of justice, and awareness, to parents in the memory of Cooper Harris. There is not a person that would use that park that would forget that experience, and remember why that park was so special. Those would be parents that are less likely to forget after that day to check the back seat.
If hundreds of thousands of children passed through that park every year, that’s hundreds of thousands of caregivers that would think twice before rolling up the windows and clicking the key FOB and walking away from their child sitting in 130 degree heat. Are traffic and noise levels really appropriate reasons to prevent this kind of awareness from amassing?
When we spoke with Cobb International, it was clear this project was literally a labor of love coming from the sheer and purest goodness of their hearts. To the nearly 900 that have signed the petition in favour, it is surprising that more residents in the community aren’t expressing how honoured they would be to live near something so special. It’s not every day you get to live near a 22-month-old politician changing the world. And that’s exactly what would be happening when Cooper’s Cove springs to life.
But it’s not just happening in municipal politics, it is happening at the Congressional level as well. Many are equally surprised that more than 30 Americans have been allowed to die on American soil, by their own hands, and progress is slow on things getting done about it.
Deterrents in the criminal code are precisely what prevents many crimes from occurring. Why haven’t legislators begun taking this issue more seriously?
Members of the public that feel their Congress is not doing enough to create harsher sentencing guidelines on these crimes can write to their Congressional delegate or Representative. If you wish to support the development of Cobb International Village and the very special section called Cooper’s Cove, sign the Cobb International Village petition right here.
Uniformity in sentencing could be an issue Congress may want to look into. It is really quite peculiar that there are not more uniform laws across America on these crimes. Why do some parents go to jail for decades, and others are released on probation?
Watch the video here of the reality of the numbers of this epidemic hitting America. Canada had two cases in 2013, but it does not appear to be as big a problem here. Why? What is America going to do about this? What laws do you think should be developed to protect the future of American children? Is Congress doing enough? Follow the journey of Cooper’s Tree House Play Park on Facebook!