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Kids more likely to die outside of hot cars vs. leaving them in one
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By Andrea Peyser
August 18, 2014

Kids more likely to die outside of hot cars vs. leaving them in one

If you’re a normal, harried parent, chances are good that you’ve fantasized about committing this unspeakable act. Maybe you’ve even tried it. Just once! (Or twice.) But you’d never admit it to a soul.

You left your child, alone, in the back seat of the family car. For just a few minutes. Hey — buying milk, running to the bathroom or filling a prescription for antidepressants doesn’t take long.

Does it?

Across America, moms and dads are getting nailed by the criminal justice system for doing deeds that their own parents likely performed without suffering punishment. New York City fashion designer Sylvia Harden last month joined a growing list of alleged bad parents when she learned the hard way that she’d be better off suppressing her natural urge to shop.

Harden, 35, a senior designer for women’s Rugby Ralph Lauren, was at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets upstate when some busybody noticed that her 1-year-old son was alone in a car and called security officers.

Harden was nabbed upon returning to her vehicle after leaving her boy unattended for at least 15 minutes. He was strapped into his car seat with the windows cracked open and the doors locked as Harden trolled Woodbury’s discount designer shops. The outside temperature was 80 degrees. But when paramedics checked out the child, they found him to be in good health.

Still, Harden’s son was placed with Orange County Child Protective Services — foster care — and she was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor that could land her in jail for up to a year if she’s convicted. She pleaded not guilty at a court hearing. The tot was later returned to his mom.

Reached at her home in Manhattan’s Financial District, Harden told me, “It’s really been hard on me. Hopefully, it’s ending soon. It’s painful.’’

She wouldn’t comment further on the still-pending case. But she said, “I don’t disagree’’ with my contention that folks in authority react hysterically to perceived threats against children, even those that prove nonexistent.

“We’ve become hyper-fearful about any children being left alone for even a second,’’ said Lenore Skenazy, a public speaker and author of “Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry).’’

In the 2009 book, Skenazy confessed to setting her then-9-year-old son, Izzy, loose in the New York subway system, alone, with a MetroCard, a map and $20. The boy made it from Bloomingdale’s on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, riding a train and a bus to his apartment in the East 20s without incident.

“What we’re seeing this summer, parents who make a rational decision to let their kids wait in a car for a brief period are treated as if they’re leaving them in the Mojave Desert with an empty Dasani water bottle,’’ Skenazy told me.

So far this year, 19 children in this country have been confirmed dead from heatstroke after being left in cars, and another four are suspected of dying that way. Cooper Harris of Georgia, 22 months old, died of hyperthermia June 18 after, his father claims, he forgot that he left the boy in his SUV for seven hours after driving to his workplace at a Home Depot in suburban Atlanta and parking it. The outside temperature reached 92 degrees.

Dad Justin Ross Harris, 33, was charged with murder and child cruelty, to which he’s pleaded not guilty. At a court hearing last month, the married man was revealed by an investigator to have exchanged sexually explicit text messages and nude photos with six females, one of them a 17-year-old girl, as his son was dying.

He also had visited an online forum in which users advocated for child-free lives, a Web site that explained how to survive in prison, and another that told how hot a car needed to be in order for an animal to die.

Then, there are cases like this one: Police in Bristol, Conn., last month slapped a misdemeanor charge against Christina Williams, 30, of leaving a child under 12 years old unattended in a car, after a passerby with nothing better to do alerted authorities that Williams’ daughter was alone in a vehicle. She was 11!

The outside temperature was 85 degrees, but cops said the car’s interior was not excessively hot. Plus, the girl told police that she’d asked to stay in the car when her mom went into a store., whose members oppose children being left in cars, estimates that 45 kids have died this year after being backed over by vehicles in places including driveways and parking lots, and another 23 were killed after cars rolled over them while going forward. Also, 265 child pedestrians were struck and killed by cars in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“So kids are more likely to die when taken out of the car than while waiting in it,’’ said Skenazy.

What about stranger danger? Just 115 kids were snatched by people they didn’t know in 1999, the most recent year for which statistics exist, with about 50 of them killed, according to the US Department of Justice. But an average 1,500 kids die each year at the hands of parents and caregivers, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

It’s time to stop agonizing over the children.

I worry more about their stressed-out parents.

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