Father Whose Son Died in Hot Car Is Hospitalized

Date: 2008-07-11

Father Whose Son Died in Hot Car Is Hospitalized

July 11, 2008
By Michael Laris and Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post

The man whose 21-month-old son died after he was left in a hot car for several hours Tuesday remained hospitalized yesterday and had not been taken into custody, authorities said.

Police said a distraught Miles Harrison collapsed after finding his son Chase dead in a parking lot outside his Herndon office. Chase, who was adopted from Russia three months ago, was strapped in a car seat in the back of a silver GMC Yukon for much of the day, police said.

Harrison has been charged with manslaughter in his son's death, and faces up to 10 years in prison.

Since 1998, more than 376 children across the country have died after being left in hot vehicles, said Jan Null, an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University, who maintains an accounting. The 90-degree high in Herndon on Tuesday would have made the air temperature inside the Yukon higher than 130 degrees, he said.

Harrison, 49, was taken to Reston Hospital Center after Chase was discovered, then to the Herndon police station to be interviewed by detectives. Harrison collapsed again at the station, and was returned to the Reston facility before being transported to an undisclosed private hospital, said Herndon Police Lt. Jeff P. Coulter. Coulter said police are to be called when Harrison is ready to leave the hospital.

"If he needs some short-term treatment to get stabilized, I would not interfere with that. I can certainly understand that might be in order given what's occurred here," Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh said. "There's no rush. If he needs treatment he should get it, and then he will face what he has to face."

Harrison's wife, Carol, was questioned by detectives at the Herndon police station about an hour after Chase was found, Coulter said. She was interviewed about background information and "what went on during the day," he said, adding that the investigation will seek to answer what happened "leading up to that day, what all has taken place in these people's lives."

Yesterday afternoon, at Harrison's two-story house on Poplar Stand Place in Purcellville, signs reading "Private Property Keep Out" and "No Trespassing" were posted at the foot of a long, winding driveway near the block's cul-de-sac, where landscapers were at work.

A child's play set could be seen in the front yard of the home.

When the home was approached by a reporter, an unidentified woman emerged from an open garage door, and declined to comment, saying: "We're grieving here. Please just respect our privacy."

Several neighbors also declined to comment.

Null said in about half the cases of heat-related car deaths he has tracked, the parent or other driver simply forgot about the child. In 30 percent, children got into cars to play and became trapped. In the rest, children were left on purpose while caregivers did other business. This week, an infant died in Tennessee when the baby's mother went to a bar, Null said.

In the accidental cases, "a lot of times, looking at the circumstances, it's when there's a change of routine with the parents," Null said. Busy parents can use reminders: Put a stuffed animal in the front passenger seat, or a purse or briefcase in the back beside the car seat, he said.

Coulter said he did not know the Harrisons' routine for taking Chase to day care. The day care where Miles Harrison was supposed to stop is along the route from Purcellville to Herndon, where he works as managing director of a real estate consulting firm, he said.

A police search of the Yukon found a laundry ticket, a Palm phone and a Gerber sippy cup with clear liquid, among other items, according to court documents.

Yevgeniy V. Khorishko, press officer for the Russian Embassy, said consulate officials are "trying to figure out the details of this accident."

"We are in contact with U.S. officials in this case," Khorishko said. Russian officials are also working to determine whether the boy still had Russian citizenship, he said.

Morrogh said the decision to charge Harrison with manslaughter followed an impartial look at the facts. Murder was out because there was no intent, he said. While states have a hodgepodge of practices on whether or not to charge in such cases, doing so seems appropriate here, he said.

"From where I sit, I have to enforce the law, and the law places certain requirements on people when it comes to many things, especially with children," Morrogh said. "It's just such an emotional thing, and rightly so. As a parent myself, I can't imagine. It's just a tragedy all the way around."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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