An 18-year-old mother who left two infants unattended in a hot car last weekend has been charged with two counts of misdemeanor child abuse, say L.A. County officials. Arely Aide Amaya was arrested Saturday, Aug. 11 at a Cudahy parking lot after a tipster contacted police, concerned about the children left alone in 90-degree heat. Police arrived within minutes, and Sheriff’s Deputy Pedro Mejia reached into the car through half-open windows to unlock the doors and reach the kids — a two-week-old daughter and one-year-old son. They estimated that the temperature inside the black car, even with windows cracked open, was 110 degrees. Amaya left her car for about 20 minutes, officials estimate, while shopping nearby.
Amaya’s arraignment at East L.A. Superior Court took place Tuesday. She pleaded not guilty, and according to the Associated Press, asked to be released on her own recognizance. The judge denied the request. Prosecutors have set bail at $50,000, which Amaya has not posted. She remains detained at a facility in Lynwood until her next court appearance, a pre-trial hearing August 28 at the East L.A. Superior Court. If convicted, Amaya could serve up to two years in county jail.
After the arrest, officials had estimated Amaya would be charged with a felony, according to the LA Times. Sandi Gibbons, public information officer for the District Attorney, told us why the prosecutor opted for a misdemeanor charge instead. “After evaluating the case, the prosecutor felt that because of the time she left the children in the car, and because she had no other record, this was the appropriate course to take,” said Gibbons. “And she did leave the windows rolled down.”
The children are now in protective custody with the Department of Children and Family Services.
The L.A. County Sheriff issued an alert reminding citizens to beware the danger of dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can be caused by high temperatures. “Never leave children, elderly people, or pets unattended in vehicles, even with the windows ‘cracked’ or open, as temperatures inside can quickly rise to life-threatening levels,” says the statement.
Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten won a Pulitzer Prize for investigating the circumstances in which parents leave their children in overheated cars, often with tragic results. Titled “Fatal Distraction,” his piece explores the lives of several families who had “accidentally killed their babies,” and the criminal charges they faced. Weingarten wrote that these “unimaginable tragedies” occur 15 – 30 times a year in the U.S., mostly in the spring and summer. He observed:
There is no consistent character profile of the parent who does this to his or her child. The 13 who were interviewed for this story include the introverted and extroverted; the sweet, the sullen, the stoic and the terribly fragile.
Originally written for “New Media Reporting” course at UCLA Extension, summer 2012.