Sunday, September 23, 2018
Public safety

There’s no norm for how hot-car death cases play out, advocates say. What does that mean for Spring Hill baby case?

SPRING HILL — It’s been nearly a month since a baby died after he was left in a hot car, and officials still have not said if anyone will face charges related to the boy’s death.

History suggests an answer could come any day, according to an advocate who tracks hot-car deaths on a national scale. Or it could be months away.

"All of these cases, really, are handled so differently," said Amber Rollins, director of KidsAndCars.org, which focuses on injuries to children left unattended in or near cars.

Rollins said she knows of cases where parents or caretakers were arrested and charged within hours of a death, as well as at least one case where a parent was charged a year after his child died.

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman on Friday responded to an inquiry into the Spring Hill incident with: "No updates."

Under Florida law, parents can face misdemeanor charges for leaving a child in a car unattended for more than 15 minutes — or for any time at all if the engine is running or the child is otherwise in danger. According to the same law, they could face felony charges if the child suffers bodily harm or disfigurement.

But parents face charges only about half the time, according to data tracked by Rollins. Advocates and neuroscientists argue that hot-car deaths often are the result of normal, tragic memory lapses, sometimes caused by a disruption in routine.

Rollins said charging decisions depend on myriad factors — including local law, political climate and who is in the prosecutor’s and sheriff’s offices — and not just the details of the case.

"You could literally have identical circumstances," she said, "and one case would have the most extreme charge possible and the other not at all."

The circumstances of 9-month-old Keyton O’Callaghan’s death on Aug. 17 are still muddy. His was one of more than 40 hot-car deaths of children nationwide this year, according to KidsandCars.org.

He was in the custody of his mother, 38-year-old Cami Lee Moyer, at the time of his death, according to the Sheriff’s Office. It’s unclear how long the baby was in the car in front of his mother’s home on Elgin Boulevard. Investigators have not released a cause of death or said how hot the car was inside.

Moyer has not responded to several attempts to contact her. The day of the boy’s death, his paternal grandfather said the situation was "about as bad as it gets."

Last week, he said he wouldn’t comment further until the investigation is finished.

Sheriff Al Nienhuis said last month his office wanted to give prosecutors "the most prosecutable case" possible. A woman who answered the phone at the office of assistant state attorney Peter Magrino last week said the case eventually would go to Magrino. He could decide whether or not to file charges, she said, but the Sheriff’s Office was still investigating and had not given it to the prosecutor.

Angela Galluzzo, a Spring Hill resident who doesn’t know Keyton’s family, organized a vigil for the boy last month after seeing his death on the news. She said she drives by the house every day while taking her own kids to school.

She and others in the community were outraged at the death and frustrated at the lack of charges, Galluzzo said.

Since the vigil, she said, much of the anger has subsided. She and others hope to put their energy toward advocating for legislation that could prevent such deaths.

She hopes the silence from the Sheriff’s Office suggests they’re building a solid case.

"I have a good feeling that’s why we’ve not heard a peep," she said.

Contact Jack Evans at [email protected] Follow @JackHEvans.

RELATED:In Spring Hill, 9-month-old baby boy dies after being left in car

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