Forgetting a child: It could happen to anyone, expert warns

It’s a shocking statistic and a horrifying thought: An average of 37 children die every year after being left in a hot car. Usually, it's because their parents say they forgot they were even in the car.

It’s already happened 35 times this year. Sadly, 9-month old Keyton O’Callaghan became the latest victim last Friday when he was left in a car in Spring Hill.

"All death investigations are handled very methodically, very deliberately -- especially when an infant or a child is involved," said Denise Moloney, spokesperson for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. 

The Hernando County Sheriff’s office is still investigating, but says Keyton was in his mother’s care at the time. Three days later, the question remains, how could any parent forget their child in the backseat of a car?

"This is just a part of being human," said David Diamond, Ph.D. "The human brain is flawed."

A neuroscientist and USF professor of psychology, Dr. Diamond says, surprisingly, it can happen to anyone -- no matter how much they love their child. He studies hot car deaths and says, in most cases, there’s a pattern.  

"In these cases, the parent or daycare provider is going through some procedure, typically driving to work, or driving from home to some other place that they have done many times," said Diamond. "Their brain goes into an autopilot kind-of mode that does not include the child." 

Diamond says preventing it requires parents to accept the possibility that it could happen to them. He knows this firsthand. 

"It's actually happened to me," admitted Diamond. "I was very fortunate that my wife was there to remind me that the child was there. I never would have thought that I could have left a child in a car,” he said.  “I really want to emphasize that this a part of being human. This is not a unique set of circumstances; this is not a medical syndrome." 

Both Diamond and the sheriff's office explained that leaving "cues" or reminders to check the back seat can help avoid another tragedy. Leaving something you need, like a purse or wallet, in the back seat could remind the caregiver a child is there. Even putting the child's diaper bag in the front seat could re-activate the brain of a parent on the go. 

"I know there's nothing as important as a child; I know that," said Moloney. "But, we're offering ways to help those parents remember that might have difficulty remembering the baby back there."

Hernando County detectives are still piecing together what happened last week to Keyton. Once they have all the facts, they'll turn the case over to the state attorney's office who will decide whether or not to press charges in this case.