Leaving children in automobiles

By Scott Tibbs, August 2, 2007

Two hot cars. Two dead infants. Two grieving fathers. Two very different outcomes.

That's the way a July 30 Associated Press article article starts out regarding two fathers who left their infant children in a hot car. Both children died. Mark Warschauer is a college professor while Antonio Balta was a horse groomer. Warschauer was not prosecuted while Balta was sentenced to 20 years in prison and will be deported when he is released. (See links to the story here, here and here.

I am not sure why Allen Breed and Martha Mendoza chose to compare these two cases, but there is one major difference between the two: intent. No, neither man intended to murder his child. But while Warschauer forgot his son was with him and went into the office, Balta intentionally left his daughter in a hot car. He lost track of time and his daughter suffered through a long, horrible death.

I will not say anything to defend Warschauer, because what he did is inexcusable. The highest priority in his life was to protect his child, and because he was careless that child is dead. What Balta did, however, was exponentially worse. Balta knew his child was in that car, and he went into the track anyway. As Balta walked away from his child for the last time, he knew she was in the car. Warschauer did not.

Yes, you can bring up race and class issues. Balta is poor and Hispanic, while Warschauer is wealthy and white. It could certainly be argued that Warschauer got off easy and should have been harshly punished for his negligence. That does not mean, however, that Balta's punishment was not appropriate. If anything, Balta should be spending the rest of his life in prison, not just the next 20 years (or less if he makes parole). There was no injustice in Balta's punishment.

A better comparison would be the cases of Warschauer and Whitlene Loussaint. According to Fox News, the mother "had just returned from attending church in the pouring rain and left her 2-month-old son in the back of her idling car while she went inside to fetch an umbrella." The automobile was stolen, and Loussaint was prosecuted under a law that makes it "illegal to leave a child in a running car for any amount of time."

Certainly, Loussaint displayed poor judgment in leaving her child in a running vehicle. But is this really something that should be prosecuted? She wanted to get an umbrella to keep her child dry on the way into the house. This case leans much more toward "nanny state" than a reasonable law meant to protect children. While Warschauer was not prosecuted for killing his child, Loussaint could face jail time and a fine for trying to keep hers dry. Does this make any sense at all?