Baby Left Alone in Hot Van Dies (June 6) --

 

A Las Vegas family is in mourning after their baby died in a hot car. There a new questions about this case including whether the father will or should face charges?

Seven-month-old Hayden Fish sat strapped in his car seat in the parking lot of Centennial High School while his father was inside grading papers. Now that the child has died, Metro says the father should pay.

"When you leave someone in a car on a hot day or any day, we feel that's unacceptable," said Jeff Carlson, Metro.

Metro's Child Abuse and Neglect Unit is forwarding it's case against Centennial teacher David Fish to the Clark County District Attorney's Office. Fish is the father of the 7-month-old child who died after being left in a hot van for 8 hours while he worked at school.

Investigators say Fish normally gives other children rides to school in addition to his own. But since school is out, Fish's routine changed Thursday, causing him to forget his child was in the back of the van.

The father left for work around 5 a.m. He was supposed to drop the baby off at the babysitter on his way to work. Police say the father was exhausted from working long hours and stopped to get coffee and then went to work forgetting to drop the child off. Police say when he altered his routine, he forgot his son was in the back seat.

At around 4 p.m., the father left work to pick up his other child at Klassy Kids Academy Daycare. That's when he realized he'd left his baby in the back seat all day. Many parents at the daycare center feel terrible for the family. "My heart was like how do they do that, it's very sad," said Alyssa Richardson, a parent at the center.

"The public feels that a child is dead and someone's gonna pay," said District Attorney David Roger. But, Roger adds it isn't always easy to prosecute. "Our legislature has set forth the law in abuse and neglect cases, and there has to be some intentional conduct, not just accidental.

The law says "a person who is responsible for the safety or welfare of a child and who permits or allows that child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering as a result of abuse of neglector, to be placed in a situation where the child may suffer physical pain or mental suffering as the result of abuse or neglect" can be held criminally responsible.

Roger says while residents may want Fish prosecuted, it's not entirely up to him. "We exercise discretion in that we follow the law. It doesn't do anybody any good to take a case into court and have a judge throw it out."

The DA's office will review Metro's findings once they get it next week. According to Metro if fish is prosecuted, he could be sentenced 2 to 20 years in prison. As for the other two cases, since there was no death or substantial bodily harm, Lt. Carlson says those parents could only be charged with misdemeanors.

This was the third incident in the past week involving a child being left in along in a vehicle. In the two other cases, the children were unharmed.

Las Vegas Review-Journal

June 7, 2003

FELONY CHILD ENDANGERMENT: Charges pursued in van death

Police to recommend prosecution of dad who left son in hot vehicle all day

Las Vegas police plan to recommend prosecution of a father whose infant son died after being left in searing temperatures inside the family's van all day.

The father, local high school teacher and volleyball coach David Fish, said he forgot to drop off 7-month-old Hayden at a baby sitter's because of a change in routine.

"We are going to submit a case to the DA's office," said Las Vegas police Lt. Jeff Carlson of the abuse and neglect unit. "It is our opinion that this is felony child endangerment. We believe that is an appropriate charge."

On Thursday, a spokesman had said police did not expect to seek prosecution because the incident had been an accident.

Clark County District Attorney David Roger said his office had not received the case as of Friday afternoon, so no decision had been made on whether to charge Fish.

Fish, a government teacher at Centennial High School and the coach of the school's state champion boys volleyball team, told police that he usually took Hayden to a baby sitter before going to work.

But on Thursday, Fish's last day of work at the school before summer break, he said he interrupted his normal routine and stopped for coffee before dropping Hayden off instead of buying coffee afterward. Because he was very tired, he simply forgot the little boy was in a rear-facing car seat in the van's back seat, he told police.

Fish went to work about 8 a.m. Thursday. At 4 p.m., he went to a day care center to pick up his older child, whom his wife had dropped off earlier in the day. There, he discovered Hayden in the back seat. The boy was unresponsive, but firefighters were able to revive him and take him to University Medical Center.

Hayden died there hours later, about 1 a.m. Friday, Carlson said. The Clark County coroner's office had yet to determine the cause of death.

A woman who answered the door Friday at Fish's home near Buffalo Drive and Craig Road declined to talk to a reporter.

"We're with our priest right now," said the woman, who appeared to have been crying.

A man in a military uniform then came up behind the woman and closed the door without speaking.

Carlson said the case was the sixth time in two months and the third time in less than a week that a child had been left in a car during searing daytime heat, a factor in several child deaths in recent years. Temperatures were near 100 degrees Thursday in Las Vegas.

In the other two most recent cases, both children recovered, but not without significant ordeals.

The first child, who Carlson said was about 1 or 2 years old, was treated for dehydration after being left in a car for about one hour.

The second child, a 16-month-old boy, was left alone in a car while his mother shopped at a shoe store, Carlson said. The still-running car was stolen with the child inside, prompting the first use of Nevada's Amber Alert system. Hours after the child's disappearance, a convenience store employee found the child still in the car and notified authorities. The child was unharmed.

Carlson said police will recommend child endangerment charges against parents in all three cases, though the parents in the first two cases can be charged only with gross misdemeanors because the children did not suffer "substantial bodily harm."

Fish can be charged with felony child endangerment because his son died, the lieutenant said.

At least four times in the last two years, local children have died after being left in hot cars. None of the cases was prosecuted.

But in a 1998 case, Raul Rojas and Patricia Robert were charged with second-degree murder after Robert's 7-month-old son died when he was left in a hot van.

That case differs from the others in that Roberts and Rojas, her boyfriend, purposely left the child in their van while they collected cans and bottles to recycle, according to reports at the time. The couple later pleaded guilty to child endangerment charges and received suspended sentences.

Despite the fact that children die every summer when they are left in hot cars, little has been done to prevent it, activists said.

"Over and over and over again," said Jody Esposito, a local activist.

Esposito's 5-year-old son, Michael, died two years ago after he slipped away from his mother, who was watching another son compete in a motocross race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. During a game of hide and seek, he hid in the car's trunk, where he died after he couldn't escape.

Since then, Esposito has joined forces with Kids and Cars, a national organization that works to prevent such tragedies. She and the group tried earlier this year to get the Nevada Legislature to make it illegal to leave a child unattended in a car, but the bill failed.

She said she hopes to get a city ordinance adopted to accomplish the same thing.

"Nobody was putting their seat belts on until it became a law," she said.

Janette Fennell, the executive director of Kids and Cars, said six children already have died nationwide this year after being left in hot cars. Last year, 30 such children died, and 34 the year before.

"People need to understand, it's never safe to leave kids alone in cars," she said. "Heat is just one of the reasons."

In addition, she said, kids can get stuck in power windows, they can accidentally put the car into gear and crash it, or any number of other problems can arise.

Parents, though they are busy with hectic schedules that often include both of them working, need to slow down and pay more attention, she said.

"This guy is not alone," she said of David Fish. "These are often educated, caring and, dare I say it, doting parents. This is the profile of these people."