Mother speaks out to prevent child heatstroke deaths

Benjamin Seitz died after being left in a hot car on July 7.

Benjamin Seitz died after being left in a hot car on July 7.

The mother of the 15-month-old-boy who died last month after he was left in a hot car is seeing immediate results from her push to raise awareness about vehicular heatstroke deaths.

Last week, Lindsey Rogers-Seitz spoke out for the first time since losing her beloved Ben on July 7.

“I felt a need to do it,” she told The Press on Aug. 1. “My main goal is to elicit more research, more studies that can help prevent this from happening to another family…

“I’m just a mom trying to raise public awareness,” she added. “Nothing I’m doing is connected to any sort of fund raising; I’m just trying to urge people to talk about this issue and get the government to do something.”

Her impulse to advocate for children and parents across the country saw a positive outcome Monday when the state’s Department of Transportation announced it was providing a $100,000 grant to fund the new “Where’s baby? Look before you lock” campaign, which will run during August and September.

The funds, which were announced by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, will pay for billboards, radio ads and media to remind the public about the dangers of leaving a child inside a hot car.

Lindsey’s husband, Kyle Seitz, was supposed to drop Ben at daycare before going to work on that fateful morning. He ended up driving to work with Ben in the back seat. At the end of the day he went to day care to pick Ben up, then just learning that Ben had not been dropped off that morning. He found Ben and rushed him to the hospital.

Mr. Seitz has not been charged in Ben’s death and the investigation is ongoing, according to the Ridgefield police, as officials await a final report on the cause of death from the office of the medical examiner.

Janette Fennell, the founder and president of KidsAndCars.org, an organization that collects data on and advocates for better protections against all manner of deaths and injuries involving children and cars, said the speed of the development in Connecticut surrounding the issue of child heatstroke deaths was “unheard of.”

“It’s incredibly proactive,” she said. “The quickness of it speaks a lot about Lindsey and Kyle’s efforts and Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy for listening — the State of Connecticut should be commended.”

“Actually doing something about it rather than spending time blaming is the one sure way that this doesn’t happen again,” she added. “It’s easy for a lot of people to say it’s all about bad parenting — that’s not it, this can happen to anybody.”

Ms. Fennell’s organization has been gathering information for over a decade on heatstroke deaths of children in vehicles — the vast majority of which happen to kids three or younger.

In all of her years of research, she can’t remember talking to a parent like Lindsey.

“She’s incredibly organized, intelligent, and caring,” she said. “She’s already reaching out toward others even though she’s going through the most difficult grieving process imaginable.”

Everyday Americans

Ms. Rogers-Seitz doesn’t pay attention to the negative words being spoken about her and her family during this profoundly traumatic time.

Before Ben’s death, she never thought something like this could happen to her and her loved ones.

“The biggest hurdle we have to get over as a society is the idea that it ‘can’t happen to me,’” she said. “We’re a normal American family that wants to show people the risks that are out there; we can be the voice of the average American family and show that it truly can happen to anybody at anytime.”

While she wants to generate conversation and raise public awareness through legislation, her main objective finding a solution for the future.

More than 700 children have died in vehicles due to heatstroke from 1990 to 2013, compared to 185 children killed by overpowered air bags in the front passenger seat.

The numbers paint a pretty clear picture that everybody — politicians, car manufacturers, advocates, parents — is a little too late, yet something still needs to be done.

“One of the hardest parts for parents is knowing that someone knew about the seriousness of this danger and could have done something, but didn’t do anything,” Ms. Fennell said.

“It’s not like a solution is impossible,” she added. “The problem won’t go away until we create technology, and we are capable of creating the technology — it’s just a matter of willingness.”

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Technology

Both Ms. Fennell and Ms. Rogers-Seitz have read studies from Dr. David Diamond, a professor of psychology, molecular pharmacology and physiology at the University of South Florida and a frequent consultant on “Forgotten Baby Syndrome” court cases.

“He’s showed that there’s a scientific proof that the brain lets us down,” Ms. Fennell said. “It’s difficult for a lot of people to comprehend, but we can’t train the brain not to fail — we are human, we are not perfect, we are vulnerable.”

That’s exactly why she argues for the creation of more pro-active technology — similar to what cars already have for seat belts, gas gauges, keys in the ignition and headlights — to help driver’s overcome memory lapses.

“The car manufacturers seem to be pushing for everything but this,” she said. “They keep saying, ‘you can educate your way out of this,’ when the truth is you can’t. If we could, the number of deaths would be zero.”

A simplest buzz from inside or outside the car — or even the phone — could go a long way to preventing this from happening ever again.

Nonetheless, it’s an uphill climb for those fighting against the automobile industry and the federal government. Even if technology is developed, its implementation is years away.

“We brace ourselves at the beginning of every summer for what’s going to happen,” Ms. Fennell said. “Until we get the technology to alert parents that someone’s in their vehicles, it will continue to happen. It’s going to take political willpower to make this happen.”

The Gift of Ben

As National Heatstroke Prevention Day loomed on July 31, Ms. Rogers-Seitz made a unified decision with her husband to speak publicly about the issue.

She launched a website called “The Gift of Ben” in honor of her son, which provides visitors with photos of Ben as well as research about the number of children who die of heatstroke in cars.

“It’s a developing website,” she said. “The blog is part of it — it’s our way of honoring Ben and sharing his story, while trying to help others learn about this and what can be done to save lives.”

She admits she was non-functional for the first two weeks after his death, but began doing some research and found motivation to share Ben’s story with others.

“I did it to keep my mind busy during the day and it started growing — a couple of hours each day,” she said.

Legal action

Ms. Rogers-Seitz, who’s a lawyer, learned about previous failed attempts in legislation that would have required that cars include some way to remind drivers about passengers in the back when the car is turned off and the driver leaves the vehicle.

She talked with her husband about making a new mission for their family — a mission for action against child vehicular heatstroke.

“He’s an engineer and he’s drawing out ideas for devices of things that could be developed, and I’m sitting here looking at the legal stuff,” she said. “The more we looked into it, the more interested we became until we just decided we couldn’t let this happen to another family.”

As her family has united around this cause, she has drafted a bill, which she calls Benjamin’s Bill.

She is using it as she reaches out to U.S. senators, like Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Murphy, and other representatives about possible options.

The bill includes ideas such as having the Department of Transportation convene roundtable discussions with everyone from the automobile and car seat industries, to child safety advocates and victims, to academic and medical professionals.

She also wants to see more funding for research and development for technology that would detect a child in the rear seat when the driver leaves the car. And, ultimately, she’d like to see a requirement that all passenger vehicles come equipped with such technology.

“I am not an engineer and can’t speak to the different technological options, but I do know there are newer innovative technologies that are in development as we speak,” she said.

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  • gradaloo

    Grief and guilt have effects on mind and behavior that can look very peculiar to outsiders. My heart breaks for this little boy; but as a consequence of this tragedy the mother’s mission is to “get the government to do something”; Huh? Have the role and responsibility of parents become so degraded in this society that the government must ensure that parents don’t forget they have children?

  • Guest

    She “would like the government to get involved” Why? Government is not meant to take on every problem & issue.

  • Michael

    It is always incredibly painful and sad to read of a child’s death, but I truly believe that spending government $ on campaigns to raise awareness or pushing legislation to add a safety warning system on cars is not the answer. If you need to throw your cell phone in the back seat to act as a reminder, then I am not sure a billboard or a buzzer is going to help you refocus your priorities.

    • whirlwind561

      Exactly. Now they want the government to step in ? To do more research? What a bunch of BS!

  • Maria Casso

    What a crock!

  • Simplysaid

    The website is absolutely beautiful! The strength of this family is to be
    admired. http://www.thegiftofben.com/

    • IntheKnow

      It is amazing how composed this family is in light of what happened. There have been many incidences of child negligence in CT by leaving kids in cars, intentional or unintentional. None of the children have died. All accused have been arrested. Except one. That in Ridgefield. That child died.

    • whirlwind561

      Not really.

  • puppywuppy

    Knowing that my own eldest is alive only because dumb luck allowed him to survive a mistake I made when he was 4 (he surprised me on the first day of a vacation trip by jumping right on his new bike, started rolling down a slight decline in the driveway that I hadn’t noticed, kept going one step faster than I could keep up with him, even as I ran faster and faster until I was at breakneck speed, and zipped right across a busy street that, by the grace of God, happened to be empty at the time), I won’t judge these parents.

    I suspect that many parents, if they’re truly honest with themselves, can recall times when they were similarly spared the horror and grief of accidentally causing the death or grievous injury of their child only through luck or the grace of God.

    I also admire this mother’s strength, in her time of unimaginable grief, as well as her courage in going public in the face of criticism, and her initiative in mounting a campaign to protect other children from suffering similar tragedies. I’ve been hearing about these horrible “child dies of hyperthermia after being left in a hot car” stories for years, and it never occurred to me that — duh, of course! — automobile manufacturers could devise a passive warning device.

    Every time I put an even slightly heavy item on the passenger seat of my car, the seatbelt warning starts blinking at me. How difficult or expensive could it be to create a similar warning (with a beeping sound as well as a blinking light) to indicate that a certain weight was present in a back seat whenever the driver’s side door was opened?

    It’s a great improvement that most new cars now come with rearview cameras to prevent people from backing over small children. As a society, we should demand the same to protect children from dying in overheated cars. I for one am going to support Ms. Rogers-Seitz in her push for legislation.

    • chaim orbach

      There is an excellent system called the Ride&Remind System. ( http://www.ridenremind.com ) We’ve had it in both of our cars for several years now and it works extremely well. When you put in your baby you hear a light “beeeep” sound and when you turn off the car next time, there’s a beeping sound forcing you to go to the back and push a button – or your horn will start blaring! . Even if you you’ll never need it, it’ll make you feel good every time you get reminded.

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