July 13, 2017 Press Release
The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office has completed its review of the “hot car death” involving a one year-old child that occurred in Vestavia Hills on April 7th, 2017.
Following a five-week investigation, the Vestavia Hills Police Department submitted all evidence collected for consideration of criminal charges against the child’s father. This evidence included recorded statements from the child’s father and mother, witness interviews, surveillance video from multiple sources, and forensic analysis of several electronic devices, including the father’s cell phone.
After a comprehensive review, we find no evidence of criminal intent. All evidence indicates that this was a tragic accident.
In order to charge a crime under these circumstances, there must be evidence of criminal intent, i.e., evidence to show that a person acted with the knowledge that they were leaving the child inside a hot vehicle. Examples from other recent cases include instances where evidence showed that the parent purposefully left their child inside a hot car with the intent that death would result, or where the parent knowingly and recklessly left their child inside a vehicle while they left to conduct personal business. In this case, based upon a review of the evidence and the law there was simply no evidence a crime was intended or committed.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, between 1998 and 2016, 700 children died nationwide due to vehicular heatstroke. In 376 of those deaths (54%), an investigation concluded that the child was simply forgotten by its caregiver. In only 120 of those incidents (17%) was there sufficient evidence to show that the act was deliberate. While these types of incidents are extremely sad and tragic, they will not automatically merit criminal charges unless evidence of criminal intent is present.
This was a terrible tragedy for the family to endure, and it was difficult for the first responders and law enforcement who were involved, as well. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those involved in this disastrous accident.