Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
Way back in May 2007, I was filling in for Mark Belling at NewsTalk1130 WISN with one of my topics a father who left his two-month old baby in the back seat of his car in the hot sun while he and his 9-year old son went shopping in Greenfield for a Mother's Day gift. One listener called in with a response I admit I just hate:
"You have to give him the benefit of the doubt. We all do it, we misplace our car keys or our wallets. The father deserves our empathy."
To his three points:
NO I DON’T
NO WE DON’T
NO HE DOES NOT
And yet that caller wasn’t alone. Other chimed in sympathizing with the neglectful parent and blasting anyone that dared spew criticism, like me.
This is a serious issue. America has an epidemic of too many parents or guardians wandering off after locking their children in sweltering cars resulting in calls to medical examiners and funeral parlors. The parents’ defense:
It was a mistake.
I didn’t mean it.
I feel horrible.
Weak. Flimsy. Not at all convincing.
Lyn Balfour wants to stop these unnecessary, totally preventable deaths. She’s behind an awareness organization, Kids and Cars whose website says:
“KidsAndCars.org conducted extensive research on how often children are injured, abducted, disabled, or killed because they are left unattended in or around vehicles. To date the organization has captured information about almost 10,000 children whose lives have been endangered because they were left unattended in or around vehicles on private property. KidsAndCars.org has documented over 2450 child deaths and knows these data vastly underestimate the true magnitude of this problem. The statistics from this growing database is what is being used to create a social norm change in the United States so children will no longer be left unattended in or around motor vehicles. “
Commendable? Of course. Balfour’s effort would be even more commendable if not for her many flawed arguments.
The website The Stir recently did an exclusive report on Balfour including a lengthy Q and A. There are numerous problems with Balfour’s thinking about this important issue. Here are excerpts from The Stir followed by my thoughts in red. The emphasis in the excerpts is mine:
The 13-year veteran of the US Army, member of the Army Reserves, and mother of five -- including three children 6 and under -- left her son Bryce in her car on March 30, 2007. By the time she realized her mistake, her 9-month-old son was dead.
After being charged with his death and later being found not guilty, Balfour has became a fierce advocate for educating parents on these accidental tragedies. She spoke with The Stir about the day her son died, and what kind of mom leaves a child in a hot car:
Can you walk me through that day?
This particular week, my husband had accidentally backed into my sister's car in the driveway, so her car was in the shop and she was using my husband's. So, he was riding with me to work, and I was dropping him off first and then the baby ...
Thus begins the litany of excuses.
This particular week, my son Bryce had been really fussy. He had a bad head cold, wasn't sleeping well because he couldn't suck on his pacifier at the same time, so he kept waking up.
The first three nights of the week, I had gotten up with him the majority of the night, and I was exhausted. That last night, my husband agreed to get up with him, but then he couldn't find his pacifier in his bed. Bryce went ballistic, woke up completely, and then I got up, was up with him for another hour and a half to two hours.
That was about 5 o'clock in the morning. I had to be up at 6:30 in order to get ready for work. I didn't actually get up until 7:15 because I was exhausted.
The initial thought in my mind was just to call in, stay home with Bryce because he was just very lethargic, he wasn't being normal because he was really tired too. But I had appointments that day -- at the [Judge Advocate General school in Charlottesville], students were graduating and I had no way to call the students that I had appointments with. I was like, you know what? It's Friday, I've just got to get through today and I can sleep tomorrow.
That particular morning, Jarrett got Bryce ready. He went to get in the vehicle, but before I came outside we were talking about a spare car seat that we could not get into the car correctly. He had been in the car seat for a couple of weeks, but it just wasn't sitting as secure as we felt it should be so we took that car seat out and put it in his old car seat.
That particular day, he said, "When are you going to get the car seat put in?" I said, "Put it in the car today, and I will go to like the fire department and get them to put it in correctly at lunch time."
He put the spare car seat in the car behind the front passenger seat in my field of view, and that car seat was empty. The other car seat, which is the car seat Bryce was in, when he put him in he put it behind my seat, the driver's seat.
On the way to work ... we don't remember hearing him. We don't remember talking with him or him cooing or anything like he normally would. We just assume it was because he was really tired.
I dropped my husband off, and shortly after that I got a phone call from work, from a co-worker. It was the first sergeant of the school very upset because we were honoring a fallen soldier from Iraq, his family was supposed to be coming in from California and the tickets had not been purchased through the travel agent that the military uses.
That was my area of responsibility -- I was transportation officer for the JAG school. I immediately got on the phone, started making phone calls, called the family that was waiting at the airport, talked to the gate agent, said please don't let the plane go, this is very important for this family to get on the flight.
Is this while you were still driving?
Yes, when I was on my way to work.
In my mind, I'd already made a stop, baby's dropped off. I passed right by where I would normally turn left to drop Bryce off to daycare.
Before I got to work, I got things resolved. I got ahold of the travel agent, they paged the tickets, everything.
I got to work, got out of the car and went into work like normal...
I get a phone call about 10:30 in the morning from the babysitter asking how Bryce was doing that day. The problem was I didn't get the phone call because she called my personal cellphone because the Friday before she had gotten a brand new cellphone and didn't have any of my work contact information in her phone.
That was communication failure number one.
The second thing was that in her file in her home she had all our contact information, my work cellphone number, my work office number, my husband's work office number but she just naturally assumed -- because it had happened in the past -- that I stayed home and he wasn't feeling well.
She didn't think to continue to communication, not thinking that he was accidentally not dropped off.
What time frame was this when she made the call?
10:30 in the morning.
I wasn't in the office when she called, but around 2 p.m., I pulled my cellphone personal cellphone out of my purse and I saw a missed call from her.
She had called me twice that morning. She called that first time and left a message and then she called again. It said missed call, but it never told me there was a message available.
At 2:30, I saw the missed call, I called her back, and I left her a message. She'd taken her other daycare kids to McDonald's as a treat, and around 2:30 she was still out ... So, I called and left a message ... she called me back when she saw a missed call from me at about 10 to 4.
I was just walking out of my office because we'd been given an hour out early. She asked me how Bryce was doing, and I was like "what do you mean?"
I didn't understand. I said, "Did Jarrett pick him up early?" not thinking that he didn't have a car because I had dropped him off.
She's like no, he's not here. She began to panic because I was so adamant that he was there.
Then, she turned around and she's like, "No Lyn, you didn't drop him off."
The whole morning flashes through my mind, and I can remember dropping him off. I can remember having a conversation with her. And that memory never happened. That conversation never happened.
At this point, I panic. I ran to the car because I couldn't believe there was a possibility he could still be in the car and then I saw him in the car.
"How can I forget my kid? I can manage $47 million for the US military with every penny accounted for, and I was awarded a Bronze Star for those efforts, but how can I forget my kid? How can a loving, responsible, detail-oriented parent forget him, something so precious, something so valuable?"
Exactly…there is no excuse
I started educating myself and doing research on why it was possible and how it was possible.
I started looking for ways to rationalize my neglect, i.e., excuses
The more research I did, the more I learned ... we have educated ourselves on babyproofing our home, but we do not educate ourselves on babyproofing our vehicles and that's what we need to do.
THIS IS A FLAWED ARGUMENT. YOU DON’T BABYPROOF A VEHICLE. YOU USE YOUR HEAD, YOUR BRAINS, YOUR COMMON SENSE.
Unlike some parents I was absolutely blessed to have the opportunity to hold my son one last time and tell him goodbye, and I made a promise to him that no matter how painful it would be to go through my story over and over and over again if just one parent listens and understood about the dangers and educated themselves and took the prevention measures for vehicles ... his death would be worth it.
It would be worth losing a child to save 100? So, one baby’s life is expendable. Another flawed argument. Sorry, I don’t profess to this mentality, especially when this kind of death is entirely preventable.
Forty minutes after my son's funeral was over, I was at my house and the attorney I had spoken to, they called her and told her that I was going to be arraigned the following day.
I was really upset…
When they punish you for a crime they think you committed, it's supposed to be a deterrent, but how do you deter someone from accidentally forgetting your kid?
Real easy. Punish them.
This has happened to a mathematical genius. This has happened to a NASA scientist. It has happened to a pediatrician. It's happened to numerous university professors. It's happened to the poor. It's happened to rich people. It's happened to middle class. It doesn't matter.
I explain to people who try to tell me they couldn't be that irresponsible, I was one of those parents. I had heard stories about that happening, and I said that could never happen to me, I'm not an irresponsible parent, that's got to be somebody who didn't do the right thing. That cannot be me.
I have found out it absolutely can be me, and that's why I educate.
NOT BUYING IT
The reality is our brains don't differentiate between a child, a purse, a cellphone, a pair of glasses. It doesn't matter.
THERE’S A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN INANIMATE OBJECT AND A SMALL CHILD
I know plenty of people who take medication every day. If you didn't take that medication but you swear up and down that you did, it's call mis-remembering.
If that's happened to you, you can forget your child.
If you've ever driven anywhere, and you can't remember how you got there, that's a function of your brain going on auto-pilot. If that's ever happened to you, you can forget your child.
This is merely attempting to rationalize criminal neglect
If you've ever forgotten your cellphone, your pager, your wallet, your keys, your sunglasses, and you swear you know where you put them but they are not there, and you find them in a completely different location, you can accidentally forget your child.
AGAIN WITH THE INANIMATE OBJECTS. IS SHE SERIOUS?
There's nothing to forgive, but I will be accountable, I am absolutely accountable for his death.
DO YOU REALLY THINK YOU ARE?
I should have been the type of parent that knew about these dangers and made sure there were steps in place to prevent that.
AND EXACTLY WHAT STEPS WOULD THOSE BE?
I'll never see him grow up. I'll never see him graduate from school. I'll never see his children.
WHO’S THE REAL VICTIM, HERE? YOU HAVE YOUR LIFE TO LIVE.
Put a stuffed animal in the vehicle, and always, always, if you have one or 50 children, if there's a child in the car, put that animal up front with you or put something in the backseat that you're going to need when you get out of the car. I don't like that idea as much as the stuffed animal up front because you can forget your cellphone that you need and you remember 30 minutes later ... and you're in the same situation.
If you don't know the type of person I am, how can you judge me?
Remember, Balfour left her child alone to die. Now she wants, and this is mind-boggling, people to sign a petition, a petition to the White House demanding that President Obama order the Dept. of Transportation:
• Provide funding for research and development of innovative technology.
• Identify, evaluate and test new technology to accelerate implementation of the most feasible and effective solutions.
• Require installation of technology in all vehicles and/or child safety seats to prevent children from being left alone left alone in vehicles.
In other words, we need government to substitute technology for common sense.
No, Mrs. Balfour, we don’t need steps, an action plan, Uncle Sam, or cars with expensive new mandated gadgets. We need parents to be responsible.
My sympathy lies with the real victims: the dead children. There’s no, none, nada excuse for leaving a child locked in a hot car.
And stop calling it a mistake. A mistake is 2 plus 2 =5. A dead child is far more serious than that.
Finally, check out this video.
And one more.