LAS VEGAS, NV, July 30

Vegas girl, 2, dies after being left in hot car

 

A two-year-old girl has died after being left unattended for two hours in a car without air conditioning in northwest Las Vegas.

Police are still investigating, and no arrests have been made.

The girl was left inside the car for about two hours on Monday afternoon, with temperatures outside topping 100 degrees.

Police say the girl's mother picked up her roommate's children from school and forgot to get the two-year-old out of the car when they got back to their apartment.

Since May, there've been 23 cases reported of children left alone in a car.

One other child died, but Clark County prosecutors decided not to charge the parent, a school teacher.

They say he forgot the child unintentionally.

Parents in other cases have been charged with child endangerment.

CHILD DEATH: Mother won't be charged

District attorney: Leaving 2-year-old in car had to be intentional to merit prosecution

A woman who left her 2-year-old daughter in a hot car will not be prosecuted because she forgot the toddler was in the vehicle, District Attorney David Roger said Monday.

"The police were unable to unearth any evidence that she willfully left the child," Roger said of Latasha Rayner, 22.

Rayner's daughter, ShyAnn Rayner, died a week ago after being left in a car for about two hours on July 28.

Court records obtained by the Review-Journal show the tragedy unfolded after Rayner was asked by a friend to rush to an elementary school to pick up the acquaintance's daughter.

Upon returning home, Rayner forgot she had taken her daughter with her when she went to pick up the friend's child.

Roger, Clark County's top prosecutor, said Nevada law dictates that a person must engage in intentional behavior to face charges of child neglect.

"The bigger issue here is the public getting the understanding, the notion, that you have to take care of your children by paying close attention to their whereabouts," Roger said.

In a police affidavit, Las Vegas Detective Cynthia Sauchak detailed the events that culminated with the death of the little girl.

According to the reports, Latasha Rayner was at the apartment of a friend, Christin Grudier, on July 28 when Grudier called to ask Rayner if she could pick up Grudier's daughter at a nearby elementary school.

Grudier told her friend she was stuck in traffic, preventing her from making it to the school on time.

The reports state that Latasha Rayner grabbed her own daughter and rushed off to the school to pick up Grudier's child.

"(Grudier) believed that Latasha Rayner would have been in a hurry due to the fact that she had told her (Grudier's daughter) would be standing outside the school," Sauchak wrote.

"She (Grudier) surmised that she took ShyAnn Rayner with her because she would cry when her mother would leave her," the detective wrote.

Latasha Rayner picked up Grudier's daughter, then headed back to Grudier's residence. She went inside with Grudier's daughter but left her own daughter in the vehicle with the windows rolled up, according to the detective's affidavit.

Four other children and a 17-year-old boy were in the residence at the time.

"Me and her daughter got out and went in the house," Latasha Rayner told police in a written statement.

In the police affidavit, Sauchak said that "Rayner ... did not think about her daughter ShyAnn missing because all the other children were in another room of the apartment playing with birds."

Latasha Rayner and Grudier then laid down to rest. The 17-year-old, Steven Swift, eventually noticed that ShyAnn Rayner was missing, according to the affidavit.

Swift woke Rayner up and asked where her daughter was. Moments of frantic searching followed until an 8-year-old child who was present told Latasha Rayner that ShyAnn was "in the car."

Latasha Rayner ran to her vehicle.

"She then discovered that the car seat was tipped over; ShyAnn Rayner was found face down on the back seat," the police affidavit states.

Grudier put the baby in the shower to try and cool the youth, and 911 was called, but it was too late. ShyAnn Rayner died the next day, and an autopsy listed the cause of death as heat stroke/exposure.

Police suggested in the report that in their opinion, Latasha Rayner should be charged.

"She permitted her child to be placed in a situation where the child's safety and welfare was threatened," Sauchak wrote. "Her actions amounted to a neglect of responsibility."

But Roger said the law is clear. For Rayner to be charged, the child would have had to be left in the vehicle intentionally.

"Under state statute, we do not have a prosecutable case," Roger said.

The decision is the latest in a series of closely watched cases involving children left in vehicles. In a case similar to the Rayner tragedy, a local high school teacher was not charged after leaving his 7-month-old child in a hot car in June because the father forgot the baby was in the vehicle.

The baby was in the vehicle for eight hours and died.

At least two other caretakers who left children in cars in the Las Vegas Valley have been charged with child endangerment even though the children survived.

Won Chong, 32, left his 2-year-old son asleep in the family car with the air conditioner running for about five minutes while he grabbed a morning coffee at a Starbucks on June 6. Another parent, Maria Door-Soto of Las Vegas, was charged after she left her 16-month-old baby in a parked car that was stolen while she walked into a shoe store June 3.

The child was later recovered and survived.

Roger said the decision on whether to charge a caretaker or parent with neglect for leaving a child in a car depends on the willfulness of one's actions and the individual facts of the case.

"We review each case on its own merits," Roger said.

Janette Fennell, executive director of the advocacy group Kids and Cars, said state law is faulty when it comes to addressing the issue of children left in vehicles.

"Your community is really seeing it as, `Baby dies, no charges,' " Fennell said. " `Baby lives, child endangerment.' "

"What's not being communicated as well as it should is that ... the law is inadequate," she said.

Fennell said during the most recent legislative session in Carson City, her organization offered support for a Senate bill proposal that would have made it a misdemeanor to leave a child in a car, but the bill died in the Assembly.

"I never really got a good answer," Fennell said of why the proposed legislation faltered.

"Heat is just one issue," Fennell said. "Kids strangle in power windows, they put cars into gear, they get matches and set the car on fire. The reality is, it's never safe to leave kids alone in cars."

For more information on the issue, access the Kids And Cars Web site at