Three Area Kids Left in Hot Cars Since Mid-June

By Al Pefley  email

West Palm Beach, FL (WFLX)

A West Palm Beach couple has been arrested in the death of their three-month old son.

Richard McDonald is charged with aggravated manslaughter  and his wife Brooke with neglect after accidentally leaving their baby in a hot car.

It's the second time in a week South Florida authorities have decided to go after parents for forgetting about their child.

But a former prosecutor says getting a conviction won't be easy.

The McDonald's case is the third one in south Florida since mid-June in which a parent or parents were arrested for leaving a child in a hot car. There's been one in Palm Beach County, two more on the Treasure Coast.

Four parents, all charged in the same kind of heartbreaking scenario.

Richard McDonald and  Brooke McDonald, both of West Palm Beach.  Their baby died June 20.

Stephanie Werking of Sebastian, whose child died July 23.  And  Alejandra Alvarado of Fellsmere, whose one year old child died June 13.

They all are accused of leaving their children in a hot car, and in the stifling heat of a south Florida summer we all know how quickly the family car can turn into a deathtrap for a young child left behind.

"Unless the person made statements that I intentionally did this, it's tough to get into the mind of another human being. You can just go into the background of the person, see what kind of life they've lived before. What type of parent they were prior to this," said Marc Shiner, an attorney from West Palm Beach.

Former  prosecutor Marc Shiner now works as a criminal defense attorney.

He spent 13 years in the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office.

He says prosecutors will have a tough job prosecuting these cases.

"They still have to prove gross recklessness, the disregard for the child's welfare and that's a tough thing to prove. Especially if it was an accident, an unintentional act caused by a lapse in judgement or memory at one moment of somebody's life," said Shiner.

Shiner says in cases like this, prosecutors will have their work cut out for them.

"Leaving the kid in a car in 100 degree heat or 90 degree heat some would argue is not just negligent. Some would argue it's extremely negligent. That's what prosecutors have to prove. Not that it was just negligent but extremely negligent. That's a real hurdle. It's hard for prosecutors to prove that 'cause that's really a judgement call.," Shiner explained.

Such cases he says are never easy, because jurors may sympathize with a parent who has left a child in a hot car.

"When you face a jury, jurors think there but for the grace of God go I.  I mean, I could've been sitting right there and I could've left my child during a strenuous time in my life or rushing for work in traffic and not thinking about it," Shiner said.

Shiner says he cannot recall a case in our area where a parent went to prison for this.

He says the main reason prosecutors even pursue cases like this is to send a message to other parents to be more careful.