Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Father, mother grieve for 3-year-old left in hot car

Sometime Sunday night, a comatose 3-year-old boy at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center opened his eyes and held his mother's face in his hands.

Christian Olsen's parents thought that loving gesture, along with his hand squeezing, meant he was going to survive despite being left alone in a van in triple-digit temperatures.

Then, Christian suffered a violent seizure, his oxygen level and heart rate plummeted, and he started turning blue.

Just before 3:30 p.m. Monday, doctors told William and Diana Olsen their son was going to die, and soon after, the couple took him into their arms.

"She held half of him and I held half of him," William Olsen recalled. "We were able to hold him as he took his final gasps and left us."

Henderson police still are investigating the boy's death. They will forward their findings to prosecutors, who will decide whether to file criminal charges against Diana Olsen.

The mother, according to her friends and husband, is tormented by guilt for unwittingly leaving the boy in his child safety seat on Sunday.

The tree-lined Henderson community where the Olsens live was quiet Tuesday evening, save for the occasional loud cries of Diana Olsen that could be heard outside the home.

"It was just a horrible tragedy," a tearful William Olsen said, "a terrible accident."

Henderson police have said Diana Olsen and her children were attending a birthday party at the time of Christian's death, but her husband disputed that.

He said a birthday party for a 12-year-old had been held on Friday or Saturday, not Sunday. He said his wife had gone to visit friends for a song rehearsal Sunday afternoon.

Kids played inside the home, and the group practiced a religious hymn they planned to sing at a friend's funeral later this week.

Christian Olsen, the youngest of four children, was supposed to stay home with his father. But the blue-eyed boy begged to go.

"He wouldn't relent, so she said, 'OK,' " said William Olsen, who manages computer operations for a local company. "She doesn't know how she forgot him or why she forgot him."

The boy was sleeping in the family's van on a day when temperatures hit 107 degrees at 3:30 p.m.

Witnesses told police the boy may have been in the van for up to an hour, but the boy's mother fears it may have been up to 30 minutes longer, her husband said.

By the time Christian was discovered, he was slumped over in his child safety seat. Diana Olsen and others rushed him inside the home. They called 911 and gave the boy water.

"He actually reached up and took a drink of it," his father said.

Shortly thereafter, the boy slipped into unconsciousness.

Diana Olsen's husband and friends say she is an attentive homemaker who chose to home school her four kids, ages 12, 9, 7 and 3.

Clark County prosecutors have said in the past that the circumstances surrounding a particular incident, not the quality of parenting, determines whether charges will be filed.

A key factor in past cases has been whether the person responsible for the child knowingly left the child unattended.

Three women involved in separate incidents this year are being prosecuted for child neglect after leaving their children in a car while they ran into a store.

"The statute provides that, if a parent intentionally leaves their child in harm's way, they can be charged with child endangerment," said Clark County District Attorney David Roger.

However, in two cases last year, parents weren't arrested after prosecutors determined they unknowingly left their children in hot cars for hours.

William Olsen said his wife did not intentionally leave Christian in the van. He said she has been blaming herself, but he is trying to convince her it was a mistake.

Diana Olsen even cracked a dictionary on Tuesday, hoping it would reveal the difference between "wrong" and "mistake."

"I don't want people thinking my wife neglected my son in any way or that it was her fault, because it's not," William Olsen said. "Wrong is intentional; a mistake is not."

Police have not specified whether they believe the child was left in the van knowingly or unknowingly.

William Olsen said the 24 hours he spent at his son's bedside were "horrible. But I wouldn't trade the 24 hours I had with him in the hospital for anything."

He cried when he recounted how his son will never touch his face again, or jump on his lap, or wrap his father's arms around him whenever he wanted a hug.

The Olsens planned to attend the funeral of an 85-year-old woman on Saturday. Instead, they are making funeral arrangements for their son, whose favorite song was Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You."

"We have a song, but we'll never sing it," William Olsen said. "We'd never get through it. There's a hole in our hearts now, and it's always going to be there."

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