That’s what a state official is urging parents and others who care for small children to do after police said a toddler died after being left in a parked car all day near Cumberland Mall on Wednesday.
“A distraught man pulled a 22-month-old out of the back seat and attempted to administer first aid,” said Sgt. Dana Pierce with Cobb County police, who said officers responded within minutes to a 911 call from the Akers Mill Square strip mall off of Akers Mill Road. The names of the father and child, and the child’s gender, have not been released.
Pierce said the child was fed at 8:15 a.m. before leaving home with the father in a blue Hyundai Tucson.
“He dropped one child off at day care and went to work in a corporate environment,” Pierce said. Police believe the father forgot the other child was still in the car. They have not said where he worked.
The father discovered the child was in the car shortly after 4 p.m., when he was driving home, Pierce said, and pulled into the parking lot behind Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint. The father entered the restaurant, asking people to call 911, employee Rodney Smith said.
Two men were trying to perform CPR when the police showed up, Smith said.
“‘What did I do? My baby’s dead,’” Smith said the father said. Then, the father got on his cell phone, and Smith said he heard the man tell his wife, “Our son is dead.”
Authorities said the child was pronounced dead at the scene.
Pierce said the father had to be physically restrained before he was taken by police to Cobb Police Headquarters for questioning.
“Obviously, a very stressful and disturbing situation,” Pierce said, noting temperatures had been “topping 93 all day.” Pierce said a car heats up quickly to temperatures as high as 135 degrees in a matter of minutes when in direct sunlight.
“Whether pet or human, they can become medically exhausted very quickly,” Pierce said.
Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb) said she happened to drive by the scene as police were investigating and was was noticeably shaken by the incident.
“I just don’t understand what could be going on in a parent’s mind that they could let something like this happen,” said Cooper, a registered nurse. “What job is that important … what text message, what phone call?”
The problem is, people assume “this will never happen to me,” said Reg Griffin, the chief communication officer with Bright From the Start, a division of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, which he said oversees and inspects 6,000 child care centers in the state.
But it does happen.
Griffin said Wednesday’s incident is the eighth heat-related death of a Georgia child who was left behind or trapped in a car since 2010.
Since 1998, more than 600 children in the U.S. have died in similar cases, Griffin said.
He also said a majority of heatstroke deaths involving cars happen when children are in their parents’ care.
“We’re so distracted by text messages, by phone calls, by just the daily rush of getting to work,” Griffin said.
“Transporting your child might be something that’s out of your usual routine and this can happen pretty quickly.”
Griffin offered tips to remind drivers a child is in the back seat.
One suggestion he gave was to keep a stuffed animal in a child’s car seat when they are not traveling with you. When the child is in the car, he said to put the stuffed animal in the passenger seat.
Or, “put something back there that you know you’re going to need,” Griffin said, such as a laptop, purse, jacket or briefcase.
The best practice, Griffin said, is to “always check your vehicle. The back seat and the front seat” and even under the seat, he said, “and when you’re done, check again.”
Griffin also said drivers should also lock their doors, so unattended children don’t climb in and get trapped in them.
While Pierce said no charges had been filed as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, District Attorney Vic Reynolds said charges could range from reckless conduct to voluntary manslaughter.
“The idea of literally forgetting a child in a vehicle is hard to understand,” Reynolds said. The District Attorney’s office will look very closely at this case once it’s filed, Reynolds said.
“I’m very concerned about this case,” he said.
Reynolds wasn’t the only one to weigh in on Wednesday’s events.
Smith, who is father to a 1-year-old boy, said he feels angry and sad at the same time.
“It’s 99 percent impossible to just forget your child in a car,” Smith said. “Not unless you meant to do it.”
Witness Jennifer Delahoussaye, who has worked 44 years as a flight attendant, said she thinks people are too overworked and stressed.
“I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but if he dropped one off ...,” Delahoussaye said, adding there are too many distractions in our world. “Human beings are losing the ability to make wise decisions because of too much overtaxing on the brain.”
Cooper said she couldn’t imagine “what can be so distracting that we forget a child,” and that children’s safety should be a priority.
Regarding the father’s fate, “I would have to believe (the legal ramifications) will never compare to the guilt he will have to feel for the rest of his life,” Cooper said.