Thursday, June 30th 2016, 4:58 pm CDT By Rachel DePompa, Reporter, WWBT NBC12 News
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – The loss of a child is unimaginable, but what if it was an accident you, the parent, could have prevented?
25 children died last year from being accidentally left inside a hot car. As the temperatures soar this summer, a grieving father has a powerful message for you.
Richie Gray has to live with a terrible reality each day. He mistakenly left his 1-year-old daughter Sophie inside a hot car.
He shares his family’s heartbreak in the hopes of helping another parent from making this same tragic mistake.
Gray usually picked up Sophie from daycare, but on a May morning in 2014, he was supposed to drop her off. In his mind he did – until he received the call that changed his life forever.
“She said the daycare said Sophie didn’t show up today. Immediately I thought she was kidding,” said Gray. “I raced to the car and that was it.”
Sophie had been inside his vehicle for nine hours.
The temperature that day had soared to 93 degrees. Gray tried performing CPR, then fell to his knees, asking God to take him instead.
“It’s horrible – for me, the worst thing that could ever happen,” said Gray. “She was awesome, she was perfect.”
Gray was charged with neglect, but Sophie’s death was eventually ruled an accident. An accident he says is impossible to comprehend.
“There’s a million different things, at least a thousand of which had to happen in order for it to happen,” said Gray.
Everything from running late that day to Sophie falling asleep in the car seat, to the break in his routine – he normally picked her up from daycare.
“About 90% of the time, it happens to otherwise wonderful parents, and of course on that day, they make the worst mistake of their life,” said Janette Fennell.
Fennell heads up KidsAndCars.org – a national organization that tracks child vehicle accidents. Every year, on average, 37 children die in hot cars. The largest percentage of those children are under a year old.
“Children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than that of an adult. They have a very immature respiratory system, so they aren’t able to sweat out enough to keep their bodies cool,” said Fennell.
Vehicles can heat up as much as 20 degrees in the first ten minutes. Rear-facing car seats make it difficult to see your child, especially if they fall asleep.
But a large factor in these cases is that break in a routine. Fennell describes it as “misremembering,” or operating on autopilot. Neuroscientists believe the part of your brain that stores habit simply overrides – which is why visual cues are so important.
KidsAndCars.org suggests putting your cell phone or employee badge in the backseat, or keep a stuffed animal in the car seat so you have to move it to the front seat every time you put your child in when you get in the car. It will serve as a reminder.
“I told her that I would make this right, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Gray.
It’s still a daily struggle, but he believes her story has the power to save others. That faith – and Sophie’s spirit – gets him through.
“I’ve got an angel now, and she’s waiting on me,” said Gray.
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