On July 8, 2008, Miles Harrison’s newly adopted son Chase died in the back seat of a hot car, forgotten, while Miles parked the car and went to work.
Mr. Harrison told Washington DC’s WJLA-TV that he and his wife Carol had adopted Chase from a Russian orphanage. They had just traveled back home to Virginia from Ohio, he was tired, and he hadn’t become accustomed to the daycare routine. Chase traveled with him quietly in the back seat of the car.
A colleague at work later asked Mr. Harrison if there was a doll in his car. At first it didn’t register, but then the horrific realization struck him. “I remember seeing him through the window, and I opened the door and I was uncontrollable,” he told Washington DC’s WJLA-TV. “I was walking around, ‘Oh God, Oh God, Oh God.’”
Mr. Harrison says he still can’t forgive himself for Chase’s death and the devastating grief and loss that haunts his wife. Even though a jury found the hot car death was a terrible accident and acquitted him of manslaughter charges, Mr. Harrison was still inconsolable. He wanted to kill himself.
“Hot Car Act”
He also wants to make sure no more children die needlessly, trapped in a hot car, and that no more parents have to suffer the agonizing guilt and grief that he continues to live with every day. Now, more than a decade after Chase’s passing, Mr. Harrison spends much of his time lobbying Congress for legislation that would require all automakers to equip vehicles with alert systems that could detect when a child is left in a hot car or sneaks into one.
Passage of the “Hot Car Act” would certainly save lives. Mr. Harrison told WJLA that Chase would still be alive today had this technology been available in 2008. These days he drives a Kia Telluride, an SUV that comes equipped with the latest life-saving detection technology.
“That could never happen to me”
One difficult and frustrating situation that the Harrisons continue to deal with is parents who think such a thing could never happen to them; that they are “good parents” who couldn’t possibly be capable of such a horrible mistake. Those are the parents who may need to heed the warning the most.
The truth is, a lack of sleep, a prescription drug, an illness, a change in routine, a simple misunderstanding, a chaotic work and family schedule, a sudden emergency or a mind-stealing problem or crisis – any of these alone or in combination could cloud or even severely impair a parent’s or a caregiver’s thinking and memory.
Until detection devices are standard features in cars, hot car deaths will certainly keep occurring. On average, 38 children – mostly babies – die every year from heatstroke after being forgotten in hot cars. This year, 26 children have so far perished in hot car-related incidents.
The Rodriguez twins
Just last week, Juan Rodriguez, a 39-year-old social worker and father of five from New York, was arrested for the deaths of his 1-year-old twins, Luna and Phoenix. On his way to work at Fordham Manor VA hospital, Mr. Rodriguez dropped off his 4-year-old son at daycare. He then parked his car at the hospital about 8 a.m. and continued to work until 4 p.m. All the while, the twins were strapped in their rear-facing seats in the backseat of his car.
Mr. Rodriguez discovered them as he went to drive home. He was inconsolable when police arrived at the scene. He told them, “I blanked out, my babies are dead, I killed my babies.” He was arrested and charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and endangering the welfare of a child.
His wife and friends, though devastated over the deaths, describe Mr. Rodriguez as a wonderful and devoted father who would never have left his children in the car intentionally. Mr. Rodriguez said that in his mind that day, he had dropped the twins off like he was supposed to.
Ms. Rodriguez said the death of the children was a “horrific accident.” She also said she will be by her husband’s side every step of the way “to go through this together.”
Mr. Rodriguez was released on a $100,000 bond. A judge has asked that he be placed under suicide watch. His next court date is Aug. 1, when a grand jury will decide whether or not to indict him.