TAMPA, Fla. (WTSP) - An expert who has studied the phenomenon of child deaths from being forgotten in hot cars says the vast majority of parents responsible should not be charged with a crime. Many people have been quick to criticize those parents but David Diamond, a professor of psychology, molecular pharmacology & physiology at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said he felt the need to take a closer look at the issue.
”Unlike most people that have a knee-jerk reaction to this, as a scientist I said I need to study this,” said Diamond. “I find there’s so much resistance when I try to explain this to people because the knee-jerk reaction is ‘it’s just wrong, these are negligent parents’… This is something that happens to good, attentive, loving parents.”
Diamond has studied hundreds of cases over the last 12 years, and came to the conclusion that this particular tragedy can happen to anyone.
“We have multiple memory systems and what happens is: one memory system which is our habit memory system, in a sense hijacks our awareness,” said Diamond. “And when we are driving along the route that we have taken hundreds, maybe thousands of times, such as going to work, this habit system just takes over our awareness."
Diamond contends that the fact that parents aren’t aware that they’re putting their children in harm’s way, often looking at pictures of their children and talking about their children and thinking about picking them up at daycare at the same time that the child is overheating in a car, is why those parents can’t be considered negligent.
“In these cases there is no awareness, when the parent exits the car that parent has complete belief that the child is at daycare and so the parent makes no act whatsoever that can be defined as negligent,” he said. “The immediate reaction from authorities is that somebody has to pay, a child died so that must be a crime, someone has to go to jail and I disagree.”
“You’re talking about who has been arrested and is being sought to be charged with a serious crime that could put him in jail for more than 10 years,” said Tampa attorney Todd Foster, who spent 11 years as a federal prosecutor and now works as a defense attorney. “I would have to be convinced that the parent knew that the child was at risk and deliberately chose to ignore that risk.”
The sad reality, Diamond believes, is that without the presence of negligence, or what is considered intent in legal terms, forgetting one’s child is no different than forgetting one’s keys.
“This is just a tragic way for us to learn about how the brain functions,” said Diamond.