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Baby dies after father forgets her in hot car

He was supposed to take the child to day care, authorities said. The 31/2-month-old spent hours strapped into her car seat.

By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published July 31, 2004


INVERNESS - Edward Hynes pulled his car into a nearly vacant parking lot Friday morning and walked next door to work.

A carpet cleaner for Stanley Steemer, Hynes climbed into one of the company's familiar yellow cargo vans and began his 7 a.m. shift.

Several hours later, as the temperature climbed to 93 degrees, Hynes stopped at a Chevron station across from the office. His cell phone rang.

Why isn't the baby at day care? his wife asked.

Hynes frantically raced across busy U.S. 41 and into the parking lot, where he found his lifeless 31/2-month-old daughter, Mackenzee, who had been strapped the whole time into her blue car seat. Hynes had forgotten that he was supposed to take the child to day care in the morning, authorities said later. He told detectives that his wife had a change of schedule Friday, which might have disrupted his usual routine.

About 3 p.m., as paramedics and law officers worked near his 1993 Mercury Tracer, Hynes was sprawled on the nearby grass, clubbing and rocking the now-empty car seat, saying, "No. No. No. ..."

"It's not real. It's not real. It's not real," Hynes said.

A few feet away, Hynes' wife, Melanie, sat slumped in the parking lot, still dressed in the blue scrubs she had worn during her shift at Citrus Memorial Hospital.

"Not my baby. I want to hold my baby. I want to kiss her," she wailed.

The child's body temperature was recorded at 106 degrees about 15 minutes after the body had been moved to the air-conditioned ambulance, Citrus County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Gail Tierney said.

Mackenzee was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy on Mackenzee will be performed as early as today. The death is being investigated, Tierney said. The Department of Children and Families also was notified.

Chet White, who owns the Stanley Steemer office just west of U.S. 41 at Eden Drive, described Hynes as a good worker and a devoted father.

"Loves his kids," he said.

Hynes has another daughter, about 6, who participates in beauty pageants, including one that White's business recently sponsored, White said.

Hynes took days off to be with his children and brought Mackenzee to the office on Memorial Day to show off his newborn to the women at work.

"The baby, ... that was his life," White said.

Tragedies such as the one on Friday are becoming more common.

Between 1996 and early 2004, at least 228 children died after being left in hot, unattended vehicles, researchers from General Motors determined.

That research, reported by the National Safe Kids Campaign, was based on a review of media reports and includes four cases in 2004. The research also showed a 70 percent increase in the number of cases from 2002 to 2003.

The State Attorney's Office will determine whether criminal charges are appropriate in Friday's case.

In August 2003, a 4-month-old Citrus girl died after her aunt mistakenly left her in her car seat. The state did not prosecute the 24-year-old aunt, saying the case was accidental and did not meet the legal standards of gross negligence.

Prosecutors had filed charges in other such cases, an official said at the time, but only when the acts were determined to be intentional.

Prosecutors in Boca Raton charged a dentist with aggravated manslaughter after he accidentally left his 3-year-old son in a car outside his office earlier this month. Dr. Ronald C. Sanders Jr., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said that in such cases, the body tries to rid itself of heat but cannot.

The temperature inside the vehicle rises quickly. As the child's temperature rises to 107 degrees, body proteins are damaged and stop working. Body functions stop and blood vessels dilate as the body tries to shed heat.

The child eventually goes into shock, said Sanders, who also practices pediatric critical care medicine at Shands at the University of Florida medical center.

Sanders also noted that children will heat to dangerous levels much faster than adults because young people have greater body surface area compared with body weight.

Times staff writer Jim Ross contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press. Justin George can be reached at 352 860-7309 or jgeorge@sptimes.com