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Despite car seat errors, baby's mom won't be charged in death

CLEARWATER — Three-month-old Adan Perez likely wouldn't have died in a Clearwater car crash if his car seat had been secured properly, police say.

His mother made a series of mistakes when she put him in the car seat that April day, according to information released Wednesday by the Clearwater Police Department.

"If the child would have been properly restrained, the child would have probably survived," Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts said.

Authorities considered charging the mother, Priscilla Baltazar, 21, with child neglect. But the case was referred to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which decided not to file the charge.

"The facts and circumstances make successful prosecution unlikely," said a letter from the State Attorney's Office received this week by Clearwater police.

Baltazar said Thursday she doesn't want to talk about the incident now.

Adan, who was seated in the middle of the back seat the day of the accident, was thrown from his car seat and sustained injuries to his head, neck and torso. Baltazar found him on the rear floorboard after the crash. He died less than an hour later.

The investigation revealed several mistakes with how Adan's car seat was installed. The base required for the car seat/carrier wasn't in the car. The car seat was placed on the back seat facing forward, instead of toward the rear of the car. The seat belt, which should have been secured to the base, was clasped loosely over the car seat. And the harness system for the seat was not latched over Adan.

Baltazar told police she usually set the carrier in the car properly but that day she faced the seat the wrong direction to feed Adan.

Just before 6 p.m. April 16, Baltazar picked up Adan and his brother, now 4, from the babysitter and headed to her aunt's store on Drew Street. She turned north on Keene Road and was in the right lane, south of Drew, when her Honda Accord struck Edgar A. Rivera's Mazda SUV as he made a left turn in front of her. Rivera, 31, told police he made a turn after two lanes of traffic stopped and inched into the right lane.

Two months later, Clearwater police cited Rivera for failing to yield while making the turn. In August, his license was suspended for six months, during which time he can drive for business purposes only, Pinellas County records show.

Florida law says that children must be properly restrained in a federally approved seat until they turn 4. But it's not unusual for car seats to be used improperly, experts say.

Three out of four car seats are not used correctly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says.

But there are numerous resources for parents who want to learn more about using car seats.

The most important thing a parent can do is to read the car seat instruction guide and the section in the vehicle owner's manual on installation of child restraints, said Tamyne Maxson, a car seat safety expert at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa.

There are several common mistakes people make when it comes to car seats, she said. For one, they tend to face child seats forward too soon, she said.

Research shows that children are more than five times safer riding in rear-facing seats up to their second birthday, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Parents also switch to seat belts too quickly, Maxson said. Usually when kids weigh 40 pounds or turn 4, they're ready for a booster seat, she said. Booster seats should be used until kids are at least age 8, according to the NHTSA.

Two other common mistakes, Maxson said, are not installing seats snugly enough and not harnessing children in the seat's straps correctly.

Some parents may need extra help because car seat manuals can be confusing, she said.

"I've even read some car seat manuals that make me scratch my head," Maxson said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Fast facts

Is your child's seat installed safely? Here's some help

On the Web: Visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov and click on the link for child passenger safety. The site offers information about the proper installation of car seats and about stations that help you make sure your child is secured properly. The Web site seatcheck.org provides a similar service.

For car seat installation help: Call Pinellas County Child Passenger Safety Seat Hotline: (727) 892-5437.

For classes: Call BayCare's customer service center for St. Joseph's Hospital and St. Joseph's Children's Hospital: (813) 870 4747.

Despite car seat errors, baby's mom won't be charged in death 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 9:42pm]
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