Charges Laid after Children Left in Hot Car Alone

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

In the small space of a car, temperatures can rise rapidly. This can result in an individual being unable to regulate their internal temperature. In this type of environment, the body (especially a small body) can go into shock quickly, and circulation to vital organs can fail.

Due to their size, infants and small children can dramatically be affected by extreme temperatures. Their core temperature can increase three to five times faster than that of an adult. Hyperthermia can occur when the body’s temperature rises to dangerously high levels and threatens your health. The average body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius.  An individual is considered to be suffering from hyperthermia when the body’s core temperature reaches 40.5 degrees Celsius.

General Motors of Canada funded a study that found that on a 35 degree Celsius day a previously air-conditioned small car when exposed to the sun can rise in temperature to over 50 degrees Celsius within 20 minutes. Within 40 minutes, the temperature inside the car can rise to 65.5 degrees Celsius.

More than half of all children left in hot cars were trapped there unintentionally. These children were often left behind in a moment of forgetfulness or trapped after playing unsupervised in an unlocked vehicle.

According to the Canada Safety Council, an average of 37 people die each year in the United States as a result of being locked in a hot car. There are no statistics of this nature available for Canada.

RECENT EVENTS

Earlier this week, a 29-year-old woman, Thuy Thanh Tam Nguyen (“Nguyen”), was criminally charged after leaving her infant in a locked parked car.

Halton police attended a plaza at Trafalgar Road and Dundas in Oakville last Sunday afternoon following a 911 call. Paramedics were called to examine the 11 month old infant boy. Fortunately, the infant suffered no physical harm. Nguyen was allegedly shopping at a nearby store for approximately 90 minutes.

Nguyen has been charged with abandoning a child and failing to provide the necessaries of life. She will return to court in Milton in July.

Just two weeks ago, police charged a 53-year-old Hamilton man after he left his friend’s young child alone in a locked car. A woman walking in a Walmart parking lot spotted the child in the car and coached him on how to unlock the vehicle. The 7-year-old child ”was soaking wet from head to toe in sweat”. He was examined by paramedics and cleared at the scene. The man is to appear in court on June 20, 2018.

CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE CAUSING DEATH

In the circumstances when a child dies after being left alone in a car, the adult who was entrusted with taking care of the child is often charged with criminal negligence causing death.

This was the case when a three-year-old boy died in Burlington after being left in a hot car on May 23, 2018. By the time police arrived on scene, the boy was outside of the car and was pronounced dead. The temperature that day had reached 26.6 degrees Celsius. An autopsy determined that the preliminary cause of death was hyperthermia. Shaun Pennell faces one count of criminal negligence causing death and one count of failing to provide the necessaries of life. Pennell will appear back in court in Milton on June 27.

Typically, a conviction of criminal negligence causing death occurs when the accused person does not mean to injure or cause bodily harm through their reckless actions. Section 219 of the Criminal Code defines the accused as showing “wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons”. The maximum sentence is life in jail.

There are a wide range of sentences available in cases of criminal negligence causing death due to the numerous ways in which the offence can be committed.

In the case of 2-year-old Eva Ravikovich (“Eva”), who died when she was left in a car by a daycare worker in Vaughan, Olena Panfilova (“Panfilova”) was sentenced to 22 months in jail and three years on probation. Panfilova pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death. Panfilova had 35 children in her illegal daycare and had forgotten that she left Eva in the car outside the daycare. She also tried to cover up her forgetfulness by pretending that the child died during a nap.

In the recent case of R. v. Simons, Elmarie Simons pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death and was sentenced last month in Calgary. Simons, an unlicensed daycare home operator, had left an 18-month-old toddler in a car seat in a dark closet to run errands at Walmart and McDonald’s. The child died from asphyxiation caused by the car seat strap as the leg straps of the seat were not properly buckled and the child slid down in the car seat to such a degree that the chest harness strap choked her. Simons was sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison.

RECOMMENDATIONS

It is recommended to always keep cars locked while in garages or on driveways to prevent children from inadvertently becoming trapped in a vehicle. It is also suggested that adults keep their car keys in a safe place.

It is also recommended to make it a habit to place your cell phone or purse in the back seat. This would require the driver to check the back seat before leaving the vehicle on a regular basis.

If you come across a child or animal in distress that has been left alone in a hot vehicle it is imperative that you call 911 immediately.

It cannot be emphasized enough that no child or pet should be left alone in a hot vehicle, even for a few minutes.

If you have questions about your legal rights, please contact the experienced and knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We have a 24-hour phone service for your convenience.