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No Intent Means No Charges in Child Left in Hot Car Incident - KOAM TV 7

No Intent Means No Charges in Child Left in Hot Car Incident

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CARTHAGE, MISSOURI -

Some parents want answers to why a mother and father are not facing police charges after leaving their child alone in a hot car.  The incident happened at the Walmart parking lot in Carthage.  The police chief says regardless of what some people think, he's allowed only what the law allows him to do.

Different opinions center around one incident that happened Sunday at around 4:30 in the afternoon during 90 degree temperatures.

"There are a couple of folks who walk by this car..." says Carthage Police Chief Greg Dagnan.

...In that car was only a 16-month-old child strapped in a car seat.  The engine was off, windows were up.  But the car doors were unlocked, so people were able to get the child out of the car.  Police responded and tried to find the child's parents.

"We go into Walmart.  We have the car description, license plate.  The parents were incredibly upset and traumatized," says Dagnan.

Police say the child was in the car for 20 minutes before help arrived.  Other parents are wondering how the child was left behind in the first place.

"You don't forget you have a baby, and you don't forget you have a pet," says Betty Beerly, a shopper.

Carthage's police chief says the child's parents forgot they had the child with them.

"The child had been with another relative and they ended up with the child (again), but had become mentally accustomed to going about on their own.  Literally just forgot the child was in the car," says Dagnan.

Dagnan doesn't know how long the child was with the other relative, just, "Long enough they (parents) got in a routine of not having the child in the back seat."

Dagnan says there was no intent to harm the child, so there will be no charges against the parents.

"In order to send something to the prosecutor, you have to have at least probable cause that a crime was committed," says Dagnan.  "In this instance, I don't think there was any criminal mental state.  I don't think that it was a conscious decision to, hey, we'll just leave the kid and he'll be fine, we'll be right back."

Another shopper though, Jennifer Lindley, says charges should have been filed.

"I think we should look at the bigger picture and think about what could have happened," says Lindley.  "Are we willing to risk that again?"

Attorney Peter Gentala serves as general counsel for ChildHelp, a national organization aiding child abuse survivors.

"That's why it's so important to report anything you reasonably believe could be child neglect or child abuse," says Gentala.  

Gentala says this story should remind people of a never ending responsibility.

"The opportunity to bring care and compassion from the community in," says Gentala.

The child taken out of the hot car was taken to the hospital for precautionary measures, but has since been released.

Dagnan says Missouri law says someone has to knowingly cause harm in order to warrant child endangerment.  Dagnan agrees that this case is a reminder for people to say something if they see something suspicious.

The parents have no history of leaving their child unattended in a car.  According to Dagnan, a child abuse advocacy organization reviewed this case and also determined there wasn't intent from the parents; agreeing no charges should be filed.

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