Boy, 2, dies in hot car in Rockcastle


By Bill Estep

BRODHEAD - Summoned by the screams of a frantic mother, two men broke a car window yesterday to try to save a 2-year-old boy locked in the killing heat, but it was too late.

One of the men, Robert Heiston, said he could tell the boy was dead when he reached inside to get him.

"I just wish I could have been there a whole lot earlier," said Heiston, still choking back tears several hours later.

The cause of death for the boy, identified as Sebastian McCown, won't be officially determined until an autopsy scheduled for today. But Rockcastle County Coroner Billy Dowell said he probably died of overheating, called hyperthermia.

Dowell said the temperature in Rockcastle County topped 94 degrees yesterday, meaning the temperature inside the older-model Honda Acura where the child was locked, with the windows up, would have been far beyond 100.

It wasn't yet clear last night how the boy got into the car or how long he'd been inside before he was found, said Dowell and Trooper John Root, spokes-man for the state police.

But Dowell said it wouldn't have taken long for the child to die in yesterday's heat. "There's a lot of unanswered questions," he said.

One witness said the mother was asleep inside the house when the boy got into the car. Authorities declined to confirm that.

Sebastian would have turned 3 next month. Dowell said his mother is Chelsey McCown, who also has a younger son.

A woman who came to the door of the duplex said the family didn't want to talk.

The tragedy happened about 3 p.m. yesterday in Brodhead, a small town in western Rockcastle County.

Heiston said he and Robert Bishop were working on a broken water line up the street from where the boy lived. They heard his mother calling his name as she looked for him outside the duplex, then they saw her beating on the car in the driveway with her hands, trying to get the door open as she screamed.

Heiston said he and Bishop ran to help. Bishop broke out the passenger window with a wrench, and Heiston reached inside to get the boy, but his body was already beginning to stiffen. He was sitting between two child carseats in the back seat, one leg crossed over the other, with his head leaned over.

His mother wanted to pick him up, but Heiston wouldn't let her.

"She was screaming and crying, hollering it was all a dream; it wasn't true," Heiston said.

Root said the preliminary investigation by Detective Gary Lane indicated the boy had been playing outside his home and somehow got into the vehicle.

Heiston said Chelsey McCown works nights. He heard her say she last saw Sebastian about 11 a.m. in the house, then lay down for a nap.

By the time she woke up, Sebastian had gotten outside and into the car. Police said no other adult had been present.

News of the death saddened neighbors in the quiet town.

"I've lost two kids. I know what they're going through," said Gracie Smith, who lives next door and said she's seen boys playing in the yard. "Bless their hearts."

There have been several other cases of children dying in hot cars in Kentucky, though they involved instances in which adults left children in vehicles.

In one of the more notorious, a jury convicted Karen Murphy of manslaughter. Bryan Puckett, 11 months, whom she was baby-sitting, died in July 1999 when she left him in a car while she went shopping at a children's consignment store in Lexington.