james nelsonWe all wish parents would stop leaving their babies in the car, especially on hot days. Too many children have died that way. But should a parent be charged with murder if the child they've left behind dies? Michigan mother Audrionna Rhoades faces second-degree murder and child negligent abuse charges following the death of her son. Police say Rhoades left 2-year-old James Nelson in a hot minivan for over 12 hours.

James' grandfather (and Rhoades' father) Johnny was the one to find the toddler, unfortunately all too late. "I go down there, and he’s dead. He’s in the van, strapped in his frickin’ car seat, sopping wet, blue. My girlfriend tried CPR, but he was dead. The poor baby." It wasn't even a hot day out, only in the 70s. But by the time James was pulled out of the van, his temperature was at 108 degrees.

According to police, Rhoades strapped James into a car seat in a minivan around 8:30 a.m., left him in a trailer park driveway, and then drove to work in a separate car. The windows were left rolled up. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith says, "We believe the evidence demonstrates that the actions of the defendant showed a reckless disregard of the life of her child." And that's why Rhoades was charged with murder, which is unusual for cases like these.

It's hard to imagine how a parent could strap a child into a car seat and then leave them there for an entire day -- like you're leaving your child at a daycare center. Even if heatstroke weren't a factor, it's just stunningly irresponsible. It makes me wonder what Rhoades' story is. Why would she do something like this? Was she caught in a lurch, unable to find childcare? Or did she really just not care?

Sources say Rhoades did it because she "wanted a care-free lifestyle." And what mother doesn't? But I think the implication is that she wanted to intentionally harm her baby, which is quite a heavy accusation.

I also wonder if this murder charge could serve as a deterrent to other parents who consider leaving their babies in the car for any amount of time. We see over and over again how dangerous this practice is -- even for shorter amounts of time. And yet, parents keep doing it.

But if the potential death of your child isn't enough of a deterrent, I don't think the threat of murder charges will help much, either.

Anyway, while it's heartbreakingly unwise to leave your child in a hot car, I don't think every parent who does it deserves murder charges -- only those who intend to kill their children. Otherwise, the horror of a dead child is punishment enough. But the more awareness is raised about the dangers of this practice, the more culpable parents who do it anyway become.

Do you think parents whose babies and toddlers die from being left in a car should be charged with murder?

 

Image via ABC News