Police: VA employee leaves baby in car, child dies

SALISBURY — Salisbury Police and Hefner VA Medical Center Police are investigating the death of a 2-year-old found locked in a car at the hospital.

The mother, officials said, works at the VA.

Salisbury Police responded Thursday at 4:37 p.m. to the center, 1601 Brenner Ave., to assist VA Police in reference a death investigation. Earlier, VA police received a call from an employee who saw a child left in a vehicle behind building No. 7, a Salisbury Police Department statement said.

When VA police arrived they forcibly entered a black Chevrolet and got the child out. The baby, a girl, was strapped in her car seat. The statement said CPR was administered until fire and EMS arrived.

The baby girl was pronounced dead at the scene. No other details were released.

DA will not file charges in child’s death at the Hefner VA

By Shavonne Walker

SALISBURY — A mother who unintentionally left her child in the car at the Hefner VA Medical Center nearly three months ago will not face criminal charges, according to Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook.

Cook said in a statement: “there is no evidence to support that the mother intended to harm her child or that she made a conscious decision to in fact leave her child in the car. As a result, our office concurs with the Salisbury Police Department that criminal charges are not warranted in this investigation.”

“It is tragic any time there is a loss of life, especially that of a child. Investigations such as this one are heart-wrenching for everyone involved. I can think of no greater punishment than having to live with the day-to-day reality of the loss of a child, especially in this manner,” Cook said.

She said her office, led by a team of senior prosecutors, conducted a thorough review of the evidence and the applicable law.

The decision of whether to charge and what charges are appropriate must be guided by the specific facts in any investigation, she said.

The incident occurred Oct. 6, when the Hefner VA Medical Center Police and the Salisbury Police were contacted about a child discovered in a vehicle in the parking lot of the hospital.

A witness told investigators she arrived at the VA at approximately 8 a.m. and parked her vehicle in a parking space between a gray Nissan Maxima and a black Chevrolet Impala. She did not observe any unusual activities and walked toward her building.

The witness did not leave the building until she left work at approximately 4:15 p.m. She noticed the same two vehicles were parked beside her. As she slowly reversed out of her parking space, she observed a car seat securing a child in the back seat of the black Chevrolet Impala that was parked to her right. She immediately stopped her vehicle and attempted to open the door of the black Chevrolet Impala, but the doors were locked.

The witness saw the child was facing the rear of the vehicle and that the child appeared to be unresponsive. She notified a nearby VA employee, who contacted the VA police via radio.

Officers immediately responded to the scene and broke the rear right side window of the Impala. Officers cut the child’s seatbelt, removed the child from the rear-facing car seat and attempted CPR, which was unsuccessful.

Investigators determined the child was 2 years old and the child’s mother was an employee of the VA. Investigators spoke to the child’s mother at the scene, who was visibly upset and crying.

The mother said that morning, her husband had gotten their child dressed and fed before he left for work. The mother said she left with her child around 7:30 a.m. and drove to work.

She said she was supposed to drop her child off at daycare, but forgot and drove straight to work.

The statement said the mother was crying while speaking with investigators, had a blank look on her face, and appeared to be in shock.

The mother said she does not drive her child to daycare every day and that her husband helps out some days. She said her husband had taken their child to daycare each of the two previous days.

The child’s mother said when she parked her car at work that morning, she saw her boss, who arrived at the same time. The mother stepped out of her vehicle, began speaking with her boss, and walked into the building with her.

The mother said she didn’t remember locking her car or hearing her child make any noises on the drive to work. She said her child normally is content and quiet in the morning.

She said she did not leave the building during the day. The mother said that the day had been busy and exciting — she was offered a promotion that morning and she and her husband were buying land to build a house.

The mother said her boss called her sometime after 4 p.m. and said that a child had been found in a car behind the building. The mother immediately thought about her child and tried to remember if she had taken her child to daycare.

She said she immediately ran outside to her car. She told investigators she normally thinks about her child during the day, but there was a lot going on this day.

The mother said that her relationship with her child was “perfect” and that her husband is an excellent father and husband. The child’s mother told detectives that she doesn’t know what to do now that her child is gone.

Investigators interviewed the child’s grandmother, who said that her daughter and son-in-law moved to Rowan County in 2015. The grandmother said they had tried to start a family for several years, but were not successful until her daughter underwent in vitro fertilization. The grandmother said her grandchild was very much loved by everyone in the family.

The child’s father, who was understandably emotional at the scene and who appeared to be in shock, said he and his wife have been married for several years. He said there have been no issues in their marriage and that there have been no issues between he, his wife, or their child.

The father said they have one child together and were planning on building a new house and that they were both excited about their careers. The father said his wife adored their child and that he was in disbelief about the entire incident.

He said he dropped off his child at daycare on Tuesday, Oct. 4, and Wednesday, Oct. 5, the two days preceding this incident. The father said on Thursday, Oct. 6, he woke up and helped get his child ready for daycare before leaving for work. He said he called the daycare that afternoon to inform them he was going to be late picking up his child. However, he was informed by the daycare that his child was not there. He immediately called his wife and drove to the VA.

Investigators spoke with the mother’s boss, who said when she arrived in the parking lot on Thursday morning, she saw the mother pulling in at the same time. The boss said the mother’s car was two parking spaces down from where she parked.

The boss said she and the mother got out of their cars, began talking, and walked toward their building. The mother’s boss said that morning, she offered the mother a promotion and they discussed how the mother and her husband were in the process of purchasing land to build a home. She said the mother normally eats lunch at her desk and on this day, the mother appeared to be acting normally.

She said her secretary called her about a child being found in the parking lot in a black car. The mother’s boss immediately thought of the mother and called her office phone.

She told the mother that a child had been found in a black car and the mother responded, “Did I forget to take (her child) to daycare?” and then was no longer on the phone.

The mother’s boss said she and the mother ran out of the building to the parking lot, where the mother began crying.

Investigators determined that the daycare did not have a policy or procedure in place to call parents to make inquiries when a child was not dropped off at the daycare. The statement said video surveillance from the daycare confirmed that the child’s mother dropped off her child on Monday, Oct. 3, and that her husband dropped off their child on Tuesday, Oct. 4, and Wednesday, Oct. 5.

The daycare confirmed that no one called the child’s parents on Thursday, Oct. 6, when the child was not dropped off. The director of the daycare said that both parents loved their child very much and they never had any concerns about either parent. The director said both parents, depending on their work schedules, would at times drop off and pick up their child.

Investigators at the scene did not detect that the child’s mother was impaired on any type of controlled substance. There does not appear to be any history of prior neglect or any pattern of criminal behavior, the statement said.

An analysis of the mother’s cell phone, which the mother voluntarily turned over to investigators, did not reveal any type of criminal negligence. In fact, a review of her cell phone illustrated a loving parent captured in numerous photographs and videos with her child and husband.

The statement included an explanation of the law that prosecutors and investigators used to help them decide the outcome in this case. Essentially, the law says there must be a negligence of a gross and flagrant character, evincing reckless disregard of human life.

In order for the action to be considered a crime, the conduct must carry with it wantonness, recklessness, or other conduct, amounting to culpable negligence and intentional.

A criminal charge would result for instance, if a parent were to intentionally leave a child in an unattended car to run an errand.