'Tragic accident': 3-year-old boy dies after father leaves him in vehicle for 8 hours

COLLINSVILLE — In what police call "a tragic accident," a 3-year-old Florissant, Missouri, boy died Aug. 3 after his father left the child in a vehicle for approximately eight hours while he was at work in Collinsville, Illinois, police reported.

"At this time, the Collinsville Police Department does not suspect foul play in this incident, and believe this is nothing more than a tragic accident," CPD Assistant Chief Brett Boerm told the Edwardsville Intelligencer in an email Wednesday morning. "We have gathered the facts and have concluded our portion of the investigation.

"Out of respect for the privacy of the family involved, we have nothing more to provide at this time," Boerm added.

CPD has been in contact with the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office throughout the investigation, the assistant chief noted, and also contacted the Missouri Department of Children & Family Services regarding the child's death.

'He's dead'
Tommy Joshua John Berry of Florissant, Missouri, left his 3-year-old child in a booster seat in the back seat of his black 2017 Honda Pilot SUV while he worked indoors at Laura Buick GMC, 903 Bluff Road, Collinsville, police reported.

Berry parked his vehicle and walked into the building where he works at 9:06 a.m. Aug. 3, police reports state. Video from the dealership that police reviewed also shows Berry returning to his vehicle at 5:06 p.m.

Lawayna L Berry, the child's mother, told police that her husband left their Florissant, Missouri, home sometime after 8 a.m. with the boy to take him to school and then proceed to work.

The 3-year-old, who was born with a health condition described in police reports as a "spinal/muscular disorder," sometimes misses school and staff there does not usually call to check if he only misses one day, Lawayna Berry told police.

The next time the two parents talked was via cellphone after 5 p.m. when Berry had run out to his vehicle.

"He's dead," the father told the mother.

The day's events
A standard case report form obtained by the Edwardsville Intelligencer from police lists the "event" that is the subject of the report as "death investigation." Under the section labeled "offenses," it give the Illinois statute for "vehicle endangerment: death."

The following generalized sequence of events on Aug. 3 related to this incident is compiled directly from CPD reports.

8 a.m. — In their Florissant, Missouri home, Lawayna Berry woke the child at 8 a.m. and dressed him for the day. Joshua Berry, later left with the child to take the boy to school, where he usually arrived about 9 a.m., and then go to work.

Police reports state that the child was in a booster seat in the third row of the vehicle behind the driver's seat.

9:06 a.m. — Video showed Joshua Berry arriving at his workplace in Collinsville, Illinois.

3 p.m. — The adult son of Lawayna Berry arrived home from work. He lives in their household. Lawayna Berry works from home.

4:45 p.m. — She asked her adult son to pick up the child. A short time later, he returned and said the boy was not at school; staff informed him that the 3-year-old was never brought to school.

The police report noted that Lawayna Berry referenced the child's health, and police wrote: "It wouldn't be out of ordinary for him to miss a day of school."

The school didn't usually call to check if the youngster was absent only one day, police reported.

Lawayna Berry also told police that she and her husband don't usually talk during the day while he is at work. That day, he texted her about her upcoming birthday.

Upon hearing at almost 5 p.m. that the child was not at school, Lawayna Berry called her husband.

Joshua Berry "told her that he did drop their son of (sic) at school, the CPD report states. He then said he had to call her back.

5:06 p.m. — As observed later by police, the father exited his workplace "... with his phone in his hand as he comes out then runs to his vehicle ... goes straight to the rear driver side door and opens it ... was in the vehicle for a few minutes then shuts the rear door and immediately gets into the driver seat ... sped from the parking spot towards North Bluff Road."

When Joshua Berry called Lawayna Berry again, he told her that the child was dead.

Police reported that Joshua "told her he forgot that he was in the car and forgot to drop him off at school."

The child usually slept on car rides, according to his mother.

When Joshua Berry discovered the child in the vehicle, he immediately left in the SUV and went to St. Louis Children's Hospital. He "refused to stop until he arrived at the hospital," police stated. He called 911 on the way.

From 903 Bluff Road in Collinsville, Illinois, it is approximately a 20- to 25-minute drive to St. Louis Children's Hospital. The distance is 17 miles.

5:24 p.m. — Collinsville police responded to Joshua Berry's workplace for a call "in reference to a child was left in a vehicle all day and was pronounced deceased by the father," police reports state.

'Nothing ... unusual'
Interviewed by police, an employee who shared office space with Berry said that although the two don't interact on a personal level, Aug. 3 seemed like a normal day for the father and the worker did not observe anything out of the ordinary.

The dealership's general manager told police "that nothing about Berry seemed unusual throughout the day."

Both parents volunteered for interviews with police. Reports do not include a summary of an interview with Joshua a.k.a. Tommy Berry.

The high temperature in the community on the day the child died was 84 degrees.

According to the National Safety Council, temperatures inside vehicles can reach life-threatening levels even on mild or cloudy days.

The NSC reports that more than 900 children have died from vehicular heatstroke since 1998 and 53% of incidents involve a parent or caregiver who forgets that the child is in the vehicle.

In 2022, there were 33 child hot car deaths in the United States.

An average of 38 children under age 15 die each year from heatstroke after being left in a vehicle.
[ Return to NoHeatstroke.org ]

“Any time there’s a loss of a child, it’s just a very tragic event no matter if it’s by natural means or by accident or by some other means,” he said.