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No charges in the deaths of Columbia-area twin boys who died in hot car

COLUMBIA — No charges will be filed after infant twin boys were found dead in an SUV at a Blythewood day care center.

The 20-month-olds were found dead in the parking lot at Sunshine House Early Learning Academy in Blythewood, 20 miles north of Columbia on the afternoon of Sept. 1. The children were strapped in rear-facing car seats and died of overheating after spending hours in the vehicle, Coroner Naida Rutherford said.

The boys’ father drove to work that day with the boys in the back, forgetting to drop the children at day care and leaving them in the vehicle all day while he worked, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Sept. 21. The father wasn't aware the boys were still in the car until arriving at the day care later that afternoon, going inside and being told the boys weren't there, Lott said.

The man rushed back outside to the car and found the boys still inside the car, but by that point there was nothing that could be done. The heat index in the vehicle could have reached as high as 120 degrees and would have quickly been fatal, Rutherford said.

While the sequence might be difficult for many to comprehend, experts say all parents and caregivers are capable of such a mistake and the tragedy has happened to even the most attentive and loving of parents.

Richland County Sheriff's Department deputies investigated the case for three weeks and found no wrongdoing, Lott said. The father was under pressure at work at his job in manufacturing at a nearby business and his mind was elsewhere, Lott said.

"Their life will never be the same," Lott said. "Nothing’s going to replace these two boys."

Rutherford urged parents and caregivers to develop a habit of checking the back seat and for preschools and daycares to call parents when children don't show up as expected. 

The twins were the second and third children found dead inside a vehicle this year in South Carolina, according to the noheatstroke.org database compiled by the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University. 

In June, a 3-year-old Spartanburg boy died inside a car at a residence.

Seventeen children have died of heatstroke in cars nationwide this year, not including the deaths in Richland County, according to the nonprofit Kids and Car Safety that tracks such deaths.

In South Carolina, 21 children have died in hot cars during the past 30 years, the organization said.

The deaths underscore the need for federal laws requiring technology in cars to alert parents to children still in the back seat, Kids and Car Safety President Janette Fennell said in a statement after the boys died.

"Hot car deaths continue to take place because nobody believes this could happen to them," Fennell said. "The unfortunate reality is that this has happened to even the most loving, responsible, and attentive parents."

 

Reach Stephen Fastenau at 803-365-3235. Follow him on Twitter @StephenFastenau.

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