Child left in vehicle dies
2-year-old succumbs to heat exposure as her family, unaware, attends church.

By Mareva Brown -- Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Tuesday, July 20, 2004

A 2-year-old girl, left accidentally in her car seat during a two-hour church service Sunday, died of apparent heat exposure while her mother sang in the choir and her father and grandmother worshipped.

Friends of the family of Alexandra Vechtomov say the girl's mother, father and grandmother each thought another adult had pulled the child from her seat in the Isuzu Rodeo before the 11 a.m. service at Independent Baptist Church in Del Paso Heights.

The girl rode to the service with the three adults as well as her twin brother and an older brother, age 3, according to Svetlana Kumansky, a law school graduate who spoke with the family Monday.

The 2-year-old's mother, Alina, leaped from the car upon arriving at church because she was running late to take her place in the choir. A family friend, Lily Trostsuk, said the girl sometimes was with her mother in the choir and sometimes sat with other family members.

But Sunday, Alina Vechtomov pulled one of the boys from the car and headed into the church. Her mother pulled the other boy from the car and went into the church.

The grandmother's normal seat was around the corner from the choir, so the mother couldn't see that her daughter was not in the church, Trostsuk said.

The girl's father, Nikolay Vechtomov, was hailed by someone in the church parking lot and stopped to talk before heading inside. He assumed that his wife and mother-in-law had taken all three children from the car.

"Everyone thought somebody else had the girl," Kumansky said.

Since the men sit on one side of the church and the women on the other, Vechtomov wasn't close enough to his mother-in-law or wife to realize his daughter was not with them, according to Sacramento Police Sgt. Justin Risley. Officers were called to the scene but determined there was no crime involved.

"This is just a real tragedy," Risley said. "There's no indication of any sort of negligence, just a miscommunication."

When the service was over, Alina Vechtomov began searching for her daughter and panicked when she could not find her, Risley said. The parents feared she had been abducted.

Nikolay Vechtomov ran outside to his car, intending to drive around searching for Alexandra, and discovered her unconscious in her car seat.

They carried her into the church kitchen and called for emergency crews at 1:23 p.m. At that time, it was 90 degrees with 33 percent humidity, Risley said.

Monday, the girl's grief-stricken family was beginning preparations for her funeral service and blaming each other for the tragedy, Kumansky said.

"They're a very nice family," Trostsuk said. "They took very good care of their children, and Alexandra was a beautiful child. (Alina) always dressed her beautifully and did something special with her hair when she came to church. She was a happy child.

"I don't know how this could happen."