NEWS- Spring tragedy: Baby dies in JAG School parking lot

The infant son of an employee at the Judge Advocate General's School at UVA died after being left in the car March 30. 

University police dispatched Friday afternoon found a baby at 4:01pm who was not breathing in the parking lot at the JAG School. The mother was on the scene, says UVA police Captain Michael Coleman, who declined to give any other details, citing the ongoing investigation and the delay in receiving medical examiner results.

The baby died of hyperthermia, and the death has been ruled accidental, says Rochelle Altholz of the state medical examiner's office.

Coleman refused to identify the mother on grounds that the information is protected by HIPAA– the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act– that protects medical patients. When asked if the baby's mother had been hospitalized, he replied, "The infant is a juvenile, and identifying the mother would identify the victim."

"It was an infant boy less than a year old," says Captain Bret Batdorff at the JAG school, who also confirmed that the baby was found in a car in the parking lot, and that the owner of the vehicle is an employee there.

"It is very shocking," says Batdorff. "We're a small community."

There have been 322 heat-related deaths of small children left in cars since 1998, according to Jan Null, an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University who tracks incidents of hyperthermia.

The high temperature on March 30 was a comfortable 66 degrees– "absolutely" warm enough to cause the death of an infant in a car, especially over an extended period of time, says Null, who notes that children have died in cars with the temperature as low as 63 degrees.

"Basically the car becomes a greenhouse," Null says. At 70 degrees on a sunny day, after a half hour, the temperature inside a car is 104 degrees, he says. After an hour, it can reach 113 degrees.

Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature reaches 104 degrees and the victim becomes disoriented, convulsive, and unconscious. 

"When the core body temperature reaches 107 degrees, that's when cells start dying, organs shut down and people die," says Null. "This all happens much faster in an infant or small child– three to five times faster than you or me."

Null also tracks the circumstances of child hyperthermia. About 40 percent of the time, the child is forgotten by a caregiver. "The person gets distracted or busy," he explains. 

Another 27 percent of deaths result from children playing inside unattended cars. "You can get in, but you can't get out," says Null.

Twenty percent of the children are left intentionally while the parent does something else– hair appointment, racetrack, casino, he says. 

 In December 2003, a Scottsville woman, Jessica Lynn Stuple, 23, was charged with two felony counts of child endangerment for leaving her two children in a car during a snowstorm while she had her nails done. 

Ironically, it's a lifesaving device– airbags– that has led to the increase in child hyperthermia deaths. 

In the late 1980s, when auto manufacturers started putting airbags in cars, child fatalities increased as the safety devices deployed, killing youngsters, who traditionally rode in the front seat. Children's car seats were moved to the back seat, "but a probable consequence is they are forgotten more often," says Null.

Prosecution varies across jurisdictions, he says. "Some see it as a tragic accident. On the other hand, due to a person's negligence, you cause a death. That's manslaughter."

Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman declines to say whether charges will be filed because the case is "actively being investigated."

At least seven cases of child hyperthermia have happened in Virginia, a number that's probably low because no governmental agency tracks such deaths. If it happens on private property, "There's no mechanism for tracking them," says Null.

"Our data is only the tip of the iceberg," says Becky Ball, director of Kids in Cars-Virginia . "If the cases don't reach the media, we don't hear about them."

Ball's organization is dedicated to informing the public about the dangers of leaving children unattended in or around cars. Last year, 13 cases involved 22 children in Virginia, two of them fatalities. 

In Waynesboro, three-year-old Emily Funkhouser died when she and her twin, Evan, climbed into a van May 4, 2006, to retrieve a toy and the vehicle caught fire.

In Virginia's highest-profile case, Manassas resident Kevin Kelly, father of 13 children, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and neglect in the May 29, 2002, death of his 21-month-old daughter Frances, who was left in the family van for seven hours. Kelly received seven years' probation and must spend one night in jail each year.

Currently no laws specifically prohibit leaving children unattended in cars in Virginia, although bills have been proposed three different times, says Ball.

"More states have laws about don't leave your dogs in cars– and they don't have laws about children," she says.

At press time, four days after the tragic incident, university police were still keeping the child's identity and details of his death secret.

"It's definitely a good idea to let the public know," says Ball, "to raise awareness, educate them and save lives." 

The JAG School parking lot was the scene of an infant's death Friday, March 30.



I think this is a sad incident that will affect this family for the rest of their lives. I certainly hope no one blames the 'MOTHER". I can feel it in my heart that she did not intentional mean to leave the baby in the vehicle. There's nothing worst than the loss of a child. Maybe the school should invest in patrol cops. Often times I've left home enroute to work and or get to work and wonder did I leave the tea pot on or did I cut the stove off.....trying to juggle to much at one time. Is our jobs worth it?

Sadly, these cases happen much too often.

There appears to be a discrepancy in the way our courts view parents whose babies have died in hot cars. Parents in lower socio-economic strata, and minorities, seem to be charged with Negligence or even a felony. White-collar parents tend to be viewed as "good parents" who have suffered enough.

Why this double standard?

"I think this is a sad incident that will affect this family for the rest of their lives. I certainly hope no one blames the 'MOTHER"."

As opposed to whom? Nancy Pelosi? George Bush? She's the one who did it, and if a babysitter had done it, she'd be in jail right now. Doesn't a mother have a greater obligation to her child than than of a babysitter?

"Maybe the school should invest in patrol cops."

Maybe the parents should invest in some responsibility for their children's well-being.

can't help sensing a big debate on affordable daycare looming. I don't think she forgot the baby was in the car. I think she didn't have an easy option and thought it would be "ok" while she was on her shift.

total conjecture on my part - guess we'll know more eventually.

All of this is just speculation. Why don't we give this grieving family a little respect and wait until some facts come out before we start judging anyone.

I'm really surprised that the police released the child's name but so few other facts.

I've been out driving (to work, to the store) and my mind spins on all the things I've got to do that way--I can completely envision having a total brain-fade re: a sleeping baby in the back seat and forgetting about it. And I am an obsessive worrier about my kids...but I still could see it happening easily enough. Things get quiet in the back seat, you have a long drive, your mind gets focused on something else...throw in the possibility that maybe you and your partner switch off on baby drop-off days, and that makes it even more complicated because you're not in the habit of dropping off baby EVERY day.

I would never hold myself so high-and-mighty that I would think "I'm too careful and too responsible and too good of a parent to make this mistake myself"--the height of self-righteous arrogance.

Lisa: why the double-standard? well, duh, because as a society we are much more likely to see white-collar/middle-class/whites as basically good people and working-class/poor/minorities as basically bad people. The discrepancy you point out in responses to "left baby in car" deaths (for which I would love to see statistics, not b/c I don't believe you but b/c I do) is a discrepancy paralleled in probably every other legal/criminal justice category. It shouldn't be that way, but it is, because that's how we are as a society.

As per the "affordable daycare" issue -- I don't believe it applied in this case. She had a babysitter lined up, but she forgot to take him there. The mother is a professor, so I doubt that inability to pay for daycare was an issue.

From what I heard, she usually doesn't have the kid (the father does), but did on this day, and simply forgot about it.

considering that the mother is my cousin i know that it was dont know her and she isnt like that.

Melissa, your cousin has my deepest sympathy, and I'm so deeply sad that it looks like she'll be prosecuted for this terrible mistake.

It's so, so wrong to treat something like this as criminal behavior (and that goes for any parent who makes a mistake like this, of any social class, and for babysitters/caregivers too).

I apologize for jumping to the wrong conclusion. sympathies to her family.

My heart goes out to the mother and the family. I worked with the mother. She is a very busy person and is almost always on the cell phone. Cell phones are a big distraction while driving. I have taken important calls myself and passed right by my child's day care with the office on my mind. Just like that. Thank God my child was old enough to say "Mommy! What about me!!"
I can't imagine her state right now but my heart goes out to her because as busy as she is, she loved that precious baby boy!

Some mistakes are easy fixes but can you imagine the price of this one?
Yes, I am sure it was a mistake and she is suffering in a way that no one can understand.

Why would we ever want to hold anybody accountable for NEGLIGENTLY or RECKLESSLY taking innocent life. Following that logic, I guess we shouldn’t hold an airline captain responsible for piling up an airplane because he started thinking about his shopping list when he was supposed to be landing it. After all, the guilt of taking 50 innocent lives is bad enough and holding him responsible would prevent him from being the pilot he could have been. BOTTOM LINE: Some people should not be pilots/parents because they have proven to not be responsible when people are counting on them to be responsible.

OR, when one of those boneheads on Hwy 29 kills a pedestrian because he/she was talking on a cell phone instead of driving, then we should just let them go because we are sure they feel really bad about it.

You live on your planet where nobody is held accountable and see what your lifespan is. I guarantee it will not be long!

Apparently JA you emailed the exact same thing on the other page....No more original thoughts. ENOUGH ALREADY, you don't have to keep spreading your seed.

The mother will suffer enough without added charges. It was a mistake. I have actually had a sleeping child in the back rear seat, in which we past the sitter's house. The baby never made a sound. I too had the baby occasionally while the father dropped it off sometimes. It is easy to forget with all that a working parent is expected to remember. It can happen to anyone and if you think not then you are indeed being self rightuous as no one is that perfect. Given a large vehicle with tinted windows and a silent can happen.
My heart goes out to her and her family. It was a mistake. Not a crime. She did not intentionally leave the child in the car. Bless the family that they find some peace.
Maybe people that think she ought to be prosecuted would do better to find a way for mom's to once again be mom's without having to foot finances as well.

I have a baby the same age and I can only imagine the agony this Mom and the family is going thru. She will have to live with this for the rest of her life. I am going to pray for her and her family every day and hope that God will give her the strength to get thru this and that someday she will be able to forgive herself. I will truly be disgusted if our judicial system prosecutes her, she will do that to herself probably forever! None of us have a right to judge her. Where is the compassion in this world?

I will truly be disgusted if our Criminal Justice system does not do anything because they go along with the wharped logic that the mom has already been punished. Let me point out that punishment is not the end state resulting from somebody's NEGLIGENT or RECKLESS action. Punishment is not the feeling of guilt an offender has after committing a crime. If it were, then half of all prisons could be emptied today.
Punishment is a sanction imposed by law against a person who has violated the law.
To bad nobody talks about the poor child and how it suffered as he overheated in the backseat of the car. DID ANYBODY READ that he was in the back of the car for the entire day (8 hrs). How much more negligent could a parent be? I may be able to understand for 30 minutes or an hour. But 8 hours?

Too bad Jonny [sic] Appleseed can't read (or even spell his name consistently from post to post)--he would have noticed multiple acknowledgements of the child's suffering on the Hook's various threads regarding this story.

But it fits his argumentative mode better to posit himself as the only one with a heart.


Thank God Sidonie is here to set the whole world right. I'm sure it is only a matter of time before Lovelace shows up to clear things up.

Is it just me, or does everyone think Sidonie and Lovelace should hook up. They are so much alike. LOSERS


I'm sorry that I accused you of something you didn't say. You have a very valid point. I just tend to be very emotional sometimes and say the first thing that comes to the top of my head.

your mother.

...Sympathy for the *mother*? You all make me sick.

She is a MOTHER! Does it mean something to you? For me it means that as a mother you fully belong to your baby, by your mind and your body and nothing can distract you from your child, never. Our mind contains many different things maybe very important, maybe painful or sensitive, but no one of them can compete with our children’s place there. It’s like a constantly pulsing nerve. If some women think different they are not ready to be a mother.