Toddler left in vehicle dies
By Lisa Roose-Church DAILY PRESS & ARGUS July 17, 2008

Police continue to investigate the death of a toddler who was left in a sweltering vehicle for more than two hours Wednesday afternoon in Green Oak Township.

Police Chief Robert Brookins is hoping for preliminary autopsy results Thursday and said it is still unclear how the child came to be in the car. The 17-month-old girl died after being left unattended in her family's hot 2004 Ford pickup, which was parked in the family's driveway on Riviera Court, off 10 Mile Road, near Rushton Road and near the Livingston-Oakland county line.

Brookins said the girl was in the pickup, which had its windows up, for "more than a couple hours" while at least one of her parents was in the home throughout the afternoon.

Temperatures soared to 88 degrees throughout the afternoon with the humidity averaging about 45 percent, according to a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's White Lake Township office.

Police and Green Oak Township firefighters responded to the home shortly after 4:30 p.m. when Livingston County 911 Central Dispatch received a call reporting the toddler was unresponsive. They immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but to no avail.

It was not immediately known how hot the child became. Experts say core temperatures of 107 degrees are lethal.

Police continue to investigate just how long the toddler was in the vehicle and how the tragedy could have occurred as well as whether the vehicle was locked.

Brookins said police have been able to retrace some of the family's steps that afternoon, but he declined to comment on what, if anything, the investigation has revealed and who left the child in the pickup.

Brookins said the family, whom he declined to identify, is distraught and cooperating with authorities.

The family, through Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Gentry, declined a request for an interview.

Temperatures today and Friday are expected to remain in the 90s with high humidity, the weather service reports.

Officials offer the following tips concerning children, cars and heat:

Never leave a child in an unattended car, even with the windows down.

Check to make sure all children leave the vehicle when you reach your destination, particularly when loading and unloading. Don't overlook sleeping infants.

Make sure you check the temperature of the child safety seat surface and safety belt buckles before restraining your children in the car.

Make sure that unoccupied cars are locked, so that children don't accidentally become trapped.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Toddler's heat death called 'tragic'

Green Oak cops investigate how girl was left in pickup with windows closed on 88-degree day.

Francis X. Donnelly and Candice Williams / The Detroit News

GREEN OAK TOWNSHIP -- A playhouse and swing set in the backyard of a spacious home in this Livingston County community sat unused Thursday.

A day after heartbreak, the only sound coming from the well-manicured lot was silence.

Left unanswered was a question troubling neighbors and relatives of Brian and Laura Stouffer: How does a parent leave a child alone inside a pickup for more than two hours?

Alyssa Stouffer, 18 months old, died Wednesday after being discovered on a sweltering day that reached 88 degrees.

"Why did you leave her in the truck?" Britany Borden, a sister-in-law of Laura Stouffer, wondered aloud.

Brian Stouffer, 29, had driven to an unknown place with his daughter and then left her in the 2004 pickup after parking in the driveway of their home, police said. The windows were up and the ignition was off.

The baby wasn't discovered until Laura Stouffer, 26, returned home from work late in the afternoon and couldn't find the child. She tried to apply CPR to her child, who wasn't breathing.

Green Oak Township police said they didn't know why Stouffer had left his daughter in the vehicle.

Borden said she was desperate for answers.

"I don't know why he would do anything like that," she said.

No criminal charges have been filed as police continue an investigation. Police Chief Bob Brookins said Thursday the distraught couple has been cooperative.

The police are trying to learn what Brian Stouffer was doing before and after his daughter was left in the vehicle. They also want to determine how long the baby had been there.

An autopsy showed Thursday that the preliminary cause of death was hyperthermia. The time of death won't be determined until a toxicology report is finished.

"It's certainly tragic," Brookins said. "This can happen anywhere, anytime."

The Stouffers have another child, a 3-year-old boy, who wasn't home at the time of the incident, police said. The boy apparently was at day care.

It wasn't clear what the Stouffers do for a living. Laura Stouffer was a skin care expert whose license expired in 2006, according to public records.

A review of law enforcement records showed that Brian Stouffer had a single speeding ticket.

Meanwhile, with temperatures reaching the 90s Thursday and expected to do the same today, health officials are warning residents about heat-related injuries.

This summer 16 children in the United States have died from hyperthermia after being left in vehicles, according to San Francisco State University.

In one of the latest cases, a Clarksville, Tenn., mother left her 3-month-old daughter in the car while she went to a bar. The 24-year-old mom has been charged with first-degree murder in the July 8 death.

As for the Green Oak death, neighbors said they were flabbergasted by the tragedy.

"I don't understand that type of accident," said Gail Lamkin, the mother of a 10-month-old girl. "Who doesn't know not to leave a child in the car?"

Other residents were more sympathetic.

Ed Baeckelent, who lives next door to the Stouffers, said the death resulted from a horrible mistake.

He didn't know the family well but felt that Laura Stouffer was a good parent.

"We see them in the backyard and the mother taking care of them and playing with them on the swing set," he said. "Good mothers do that sort of thing."

You can reach Francis X. Donnelly at (313) 223-4186 or fdonnelly@detnews.com.