Nearly two months after a 10-month old baby died after being locked in his father’s car for over three hours in the summer heat, charges have yet to be filed against Mark Warschauer, the UCI professor who apparently forgot his son in the back seat.
According to the coroner’s autopsy report released last week, Michael was found dead at 11:58 a.m. on Aug. 8 after suffering from hyperthermia, a general name given to a variety of heat-related illnesses or conditions in which body heat is elevated.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office is currently deciding whether or not to charge Warschauer with a crime.
According to Keiko Hirata, the baby’s mother and part-time lecturer at UCI, Warschauer was a loving father who adored Michael. A change in routine that day prompted a lapse in memory that resulted in tragedy.
‘Mark has the habit of driving to work every day and sometimes twice a day. In contrast, he drove to the day care center much less often,’ Hirata said. ‘The route to both is almost the same, but with a left turn at the end instead of a right. He became confused that day after a change of morning routine and by habit drove straight to the office instead of first dropping off Mikey at the day care center. Unfortunately, Mikey had fallen asleep in his rear-facing backseat carseat.’
Hirata said Warschauer was devastated when he found out what happened hours later.
‘He collapsed to the ground in agony. It was the worst moment of his life,’ Hirata said.
According to the UCI Police Department, there haven’t been many cases where an accident of this nature resulted in no charges being filed.
‘With cases of that type, I’m not familiar with any case where charges haven’t been filed,’ said Sergeant Steve Monsanto.
UCI Police filed a complaint to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, where after receiving information from the coroner’s office, the DA will decide whether to file charges or not.
‘You would be hard-pressed to find a situation where the DA wouldn’t,’ Monsanto said.
Tammy Russell, whose six-month-old daughter Kaitlyn died after being left in a car by her babysitter for three hours, believes accidents like this could happen to anyone. While she at one point blamed Kaitlyn’s babysitter for her death, she’s grown to sympathize with parents who lose their children this way.
‘There’s never going to be a way to explain it,’ Russell said. ‘I’ll never truly understand it. I’ve talked to grief-stricken parents, and there was absolutely no ill-intent going on.’
Russell has since started 4 R Kids’ Sake, a child safety group that aims to raise awareness about the issue. She stated that while at the moment there is nothing on the market for purchase in regards to additional child safety in carseats, NASA has developed a sensor to help prevent parents from leaving their children unattended.
‘It is a sensor placed in a carseat that senses weight over five ounces,’ Russell said.
The alarm will set off if it senses weight and the parent is more than 10 feet away from the car. The parent is required to physically go back to the car to shut off the alarm.
The fact that there are alarms to prevent these accidents is a sign that it can happen to anyone.
‘My hope for this family would be that people can understand how a normal, good, smart person could do something like this … preoccupied by a routine, distracted from other thoughts,’ said Elizabeth Loftus, distinguished professor of social ecology. ‘So as to help her and others understand that this can happen to anyone.’
According to Hirata, these incidents are becoming more frequent because of laws that required infants to be seated in backseats and not in the passenger seats of cars for fear of crushing them with airbags in the occurrence of an accident.
‘These incidents started happening after a few children were killed by airbags and new regulations were set mandating that babies should be placed in the backseat, with infants under one placed in rear-facing seats. Unfortunately, more babies are dying now from these types of accidents than were ever killed by airbags,’ Hirata said. ‘We hope that new legislation supporting this technology can prevent these accidents from occurring in the future.’