Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Whose fault is it?

This past June 22nd, in Camden, New Jersey, a mother went inside her house for only a few minutes, leaving her young son and two other boys playing in the front yard. When she came back out, they were nowhere to be found. For two days, police and civilians scoured the area extensively, particularly the woods, but without success. Then one of the fathers and his father-in-law went looking for jumper cables in a Toyota Camry belonging to one of the families. They found the three boys' bodies in the trunk; apparently the boys had climbed in and suffocated when the trunk closed on them. The car was not working and had been there for a few weeks, and though one of the boys had been known to play in it, nobody had thought to check inside the trunk. A combination of rainfall and insulation would have made it hard for the boys to make themselves heard.

The Guardian had thorough coverage immediately after the bodies were discovered, ironically better than I saw in American newspapers.

Soon after, the father of the oldest boy blamed the Division of Family and Welfare Services and announced he might sue. On just what grounds? He claimed that he had told the DFWS that his son, who was mentally retarded, would often wander away from home. "If he had been put in a safe place, maybe this would have never happened." It's the government's fault that the family didn't take steps to watch the boy themselves? Since when is government supposed to be a babysitter on beck-and-call?

Soon after, one of the families said they want to sue the police department (for not searching the trunk), and perhaps Toyota. Why Toyota? They won't admit it, but it's solely because Toyota has deep pockets, nothing more. The trunk closed easily not because the hydraulic mechanism that keeps the lid open was faulty, but because it was broken. The car was old, so how is that Toyota's fault? It was the family's fault for not maintaining the car in good repair, let alone keeping such a deathtrap around.

Their threat to sue Toyota reminds me of a case back in 1997. A young boy was in the back of his parents' minivan, not wearing his seat belt, while his parents drove through an intersection. Another car was traveling only 5 to 10 mph and somehow hit them with enough force that the boy was ejected out the rear window and died. Who do you think the family (successfully) sued? Chrysler, for making a supposedly faulty latch for the rear window. Just like the Camden tragedy, the parents refused to take responsibility for their child, and the target of their lawsuit isn't the person whose negligence actually caused the death. Deep pockets.

The family says that they asked the police if they had checked the car. Why didn't the family check it themselves? The police said the car was clear, but were it my child, I'd have wanted to double-check it, particularly knowing my child was known to play in it. One of the fathers said, "Maybe they should have looked in the trunk," but maybe he should have looked in there himself? At no time were the parents restrained from performing their own search, including during the three hours they waited before calling the police.

Now the autopsy results have come back. The boys may have been alive for 13 to possibly 33 hours before they finally suffocated. The families will certainly use this to sue, claiming that the police were negligent and should have found the boys alive. I read somewhere (but can't find it at the moment) that the two officers who checked the car have already received disciplinary action, but with no details provided.

From the beginning I had every sympathy for the families, maintaining that no one is to blame. It's another of those terrible, terrible things over which we should grieve, not point fingers. However, while I still mourn those boys, I'm disgusted by the families trying to turn this into a cash cow. Since they wish to place blame, it's time they accepted that their own mistakes directly led to the boys' deaths. They should have been careful in either of two ways (not leaving the car there and not leaving the boys unattended), and then it wouldn't have mattered that the police didn't think to check the trunk of a beaten-up, non-working car.


Anonymous ScottM said...

I hate to be cruel; but it is the family's fault. Sure, they can go along with the "Police shoulda done the searching" and the "We did not know they were in the trunk", but isn't there something to the idea that you have some legal responsibility to your own children not to be lazy and passive if they are in danger? Let's face facts, this family was probably poor trash (sorry if that offends you) and thought the government absolved them of this responsibility and sat around waiting, doing what they often do: sitting on the couch.

The fact that they had a useless, banged-up car on their property leads to make me believe they were poor; and the evidence they were poor makes me believe that their poverty was a condition of this laziness and passivity.

And their child suffered the consequences.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 8:14:00 PM  
Blogger TKC said...

I thought the courts had already decided that the police are not obliged to protect you. So if that is the bench-mark then I think 'finding your lost kids' is well below that.

I have to go with 'blame the family' too. As sad as it is, you've got keep an eye on the young'uns. They easily get into trouble. Most of the time they get away with getting the crap scared out of them or a few bumps and bruises. Other times it is the emergency room or, as in this case, worse.

I think they should sue Karl Rove. The Dems would be on their side in an instant.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 9:24:00 PM  

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