June 22, 2004

Child found dead in car

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The infant and his 4-year-old brother were supposed to be taken to separate day care providers.

The older boy was dropped off; the 1-year-old, though, apparently was forgotten.

So through much of Tuesday, he remained inside the Chevrolet Suburban, which was parked in the driveway of the family's east DeKalb County home.

Outside, temperatures hit 87 degrees and could have reached as high as 130 degrees inside the parked SUV.

At 4 p.m. when a family member discovered the child, identified by police as Evan Walker, he wasn't breathing and was later pronounced dead.

Police would not release any other details about the case.

They also would not say who had driven the children to day care, nor would they identify the couple who lived inside the home on a cul-de-sac on Deshon Trail, which is lined with brick-front homes and well-kept lawns.

The boy became the 10th child across the country to die after being left in a car this year, according to Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids 'N' Cars, a national child safety advocacy group.

"In most cases," she said, "these are loving parents who really think they dropped their children off."

One unintended consequence of putting children in back seats where they belong in order to avoid deaths from passenger-side air bags, Fennell said is that they can be forgotten, sometimes with deadly consequences.

For instance, in August 2000, a 2-year-old boy died of heatstroke after his grandmother accidentally left him in her car at South DeKalb Mall for about eight hours. The woman was tried and acquitted in her grandson's death.

Absent-mindedness is such a problem that NASA has developed a device that could attach to a key ring and sound an alarm if a driver moved too far from an occupied car seat.

And General Motors is working with the National Safe Kids Campaign to design a radar sensor, which could detect even the most subtle movement, such as a child's breathing.

To remind parents about children in the back seat, Fennell suggested simple techniques, such as putting a cellphone, lunch or other items in the back seat, or placing a teddy bear up front.

She also recommended that parents make agreements with child care providers to call them if the child isn't dropped off by a certain time each day.

Because children's bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult's, little ones are particularly vulnerable, Fennell said.

Also, temperatures inside a car climb amazingly fast and could increase by as much as 43 degrees in an hour.

Back on Deshon Trail, Stephen and Glynis Lash, who live across the street from where the boy died Tuesday, said they are friends with the couple.

Sometimes, the Lashes and the couple would watch each other's children or play basketball with a portable goal in the street.

"Every evening when the sun goes down, we'll all meet out here in the middle of the cul-de-sac," Glynis Lash said.

The couple also have a newborn daughter, neighbors said.

Stephen Lash said the man coaches Little League, and last Sunday, on Father's Day, he played football in the front yard with children from the neighborhood.

"He's the best father, I think, in the neighborhood," Stephen Lash said.

The couple said the man worked an overnight shift but spent a lot of time with the children.

Relatives of the boy who died Tuesday said they did not want to talk to reporters.

Dru Okoya, who lives four houses down, across the cul-de-sac, said he knew something was wrong Tuesday afternoon when he heard the woman who lived there screaming, "Somebody help me." He ran to see what was wrong and called 911.

Okoya said paramedics arrived quickly and tried CPR, but the child could not be revived.

He said it appeared as if the baby had a burn mark on the side of his face, as if he had been resting against a hot window or seat belt latch.

He didn't notice whether the baby was in a car seat.

On Tuesday night, after police left, about 20 adults went inside to pray with the family.

Staff writers Mae Gentry, Tasgola Bruner and Nancy Yang contributed to this article.