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Forgotten Children

Texas leads the nation in children's hot car deaths with more than 110 cases since 1990. Why do adults keep forgetting kids in hot cars?

Matt Keyser

KHOU

Children’s laughter fills the halls of Dee Dee Estis’ two-bedroom apartment. Toys are scattered throughout the house and child-safety measures in place to ensure no one gets hurt. In a back bedroom, Estis’ 6-year-old daughter, Bailey, plays with a friend.

Hanging on the walls are pictures of her 3-year-old son, Christian LaCombe, a brown-haired, blue-eyed boy his mother describes as an adventurous goofball with a contagious smile who can make the grumpiest person in the room grin; a caring, compassionate boy, who’s willing to do anything for those he loves.

He’s a boy who loves hiding behind the couch, waiting for Estis to walk by so he can attack and pounce on her back. He loves the movie “Cars” so much, Estis estimates he’s watched it at least a million and a half times. And he has a knack for memorizing song lyrics, especially “Life Is A Highway” by Rascal Flatts, the theme song to “Cars.

But the memories are all Estis has left of her son these days. Christian’s happy, joyful life came to an abrupt end Aug. 13, 2008, just months before his fourth birthday, when his grandmother unknowingly left him strapped in his car seat for 10 hours on a hot summer day outside her office.

It’s a terrible tragedy that happens far too often: An average of 30 children die in hot cars each year, or about one every nine days, since 1990, according to statistics provided from kidsandcars.org, a national non-profit child safety organization. Texas leads the nation in hot car deaths with 111 since 1990, well ahead of Florida with more than 75 cases and double those in California.

There have been five deaths in Texas this year alone, including a 2-year-old boy who was left in a church parking lot in Dallas while his parents attended a service inside. The boy’s father later found him around 3 p.m., with outside temperatures pushing 100 degrees.

With the staggering number of children left in cars, Ravi Maini, a lieutenant with the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department, says their deaths can’t be the result of malicious intentions.

“That’s something accidental. Most people are quick to judge and say, ‘I would never do that, that’s a bad parent,’ but sometimes people make mistakes,” Maini said.

Such is the case for Estis’ family: A momentary memory lapse by Estis’ mother, Donna, led to Christian’s death.

“I didn’t lose my son because I didn’t care,” Estis says. “I wasn’t an irresponsible parent. I trusted the one who raised me properly to take care of my child, and unfortunately, she had a misstep. She’s not bad, either.”

Credit: Courtesy Dee Dee Estis
Christian LaCombe was 3 years old when he was unknowingly left in his car seat for 10 hours on a hot August afternoon in 2008. More than 750 children across the U.S. have been died of hyperthermia as a result of being left in a hot car since 1990.

The day Christian died, Estis woke up late for work. She had been up studying for a math final well into the late night hours the evening before. She was in a rush to get to the office by 8, so she asked her mother to take Christian to day care and to pick him up because she had a math final that evening.

Estis remembered helping Christian get dressed. He, too, was tired after staying up late because of a pizza party with his cousin. She kissed her sleepy son on his head, said one last “I love you” and raced to work.

She never imagined that would be the last time she would see him alive.