In a tragic and shocking case in Alabama, a 56-year-old grandfather was arrested and charged in the death of his 2-year-old grandson after the man left the boy in a hot vehicle in 90-degree temperature for hours, allegedly believing he had already dropped off his grandson earlier in the day. Charges levied at William “Bill” Wiesman include reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in what police believe was an unintentional death.
Wiesman, 56, went to work after believing he had dropped off his grandson, even returning to his truck three times before driving to his grandson’s daycare where he realized the boy was still in the back seat, strapped in his car seat which was forward-facing behind the driver’s seat. The child is believed to have been in the hot car for around seven hours.
In her statement at a news conference, Blount County District Attorney Pamela Casey pieced the day’s events based on Wiesman’s statement, telling the media that, “[Wiesman] went back to the day care thinking he had left the child there, but had been in the vehicle three times that day from the time he picked the child up until the time he returned to the day care.” The medical examiner revealed that the boy died from heatstroke, which would have set in quickly in the hot car. According to TheBlaze, Casey was brought to tears as she described the tragic incident, “It’s awful. My heart breaks for this family,” the D.A. said.
It appears that law enforcement, while still investigating the case, believe that the boy’s death was unintentional, a negligent act that yielded a tragic mistake. Charles Clifton, Oneonta Police Chief, said that responding officers were deeply affected by what they saw on the scene, telling the media, “I believe everyone I saw on the scene has children, so it’s extremely difficult to be involved in something like that.”
— Local 12/WKRC-TV (@Local12) September 23, 2022
While children dying in hot cars is a rare occurrence in the United States, it still happens, and when it does it stuns the community, leading people to wonder how someone could forget leaving a child in a car. Kids and Car Safety, a national nonprofit child safety organization, says “that at least 30 children have died in the United States this year after being left in hot vehicles.” In a detailed analysis on hot car deaths, the organization reports that safety standards for children riding in cars were last instituted in the 1990s as the result of children being killed by overpowered airbags while riding in the front seat. Laws supported by safety advocates and the auto industry led to new laws being passed, with the intention of ensuring children would ride in the back seat, whether in a strapped car seat or seat belt.
However, as children moved from the front seat to the back seat, hot car deaths have increased, as stressed parents or guardians focus on making it to work on time, forgetting to look in the back seat as their child helplessly waits for his or her parent to return while the temperatures rise. “Unfortunately, no modifications were put in place to compensate for this change. This has resulted in at least 1,018 hot car deaths (compared to approx. 186 child front seat passenger airbag deaths),” the organization stated, referring to data collected from 1990 to 2021.”
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As a result of lobbying by Kids and Car Safety, all new vehicles are built with a child detection and reminder system that prompts drivers to look in the back seat before vacating the vehicle. Yet child hot car deaths still occur, and in a sad twist, 42% of drivers whose child or charge died from heatstroke after being forgotten in the car believed they had already dropped off the child at day care.