Parents Become Subject to Hot Car Witch Hunt

When Kim Brooks left her son alone briefly in the car, she never thought it would lead to criminal charges.
3:00 | 08/09/14

Coming up in the next {{countdown}} {{countdownlbl}}

Coming up next:



Skip to this video now

Now Playing:


Related Extras
Related Videos
Video Transcript
Transcript for Parents Become Subject to Hot Car Witch Hunt
Nearly every parent has been in this position. You need the run a quick errand, but your child is in the car. Can you leave them in the car for a minute? Some parents getting in deep trouble, with strangers videotaping them. Tonight, we ask, who is right? Who is wrong? Reporter: 'Tis the season -- 5-year-old boy found dead inside a car. Leaving his 3-month-old boy to die in a hot car. Reporter: The season of scorching headlines. It's happened again. The second incident of a child being left in a hot car in as many days. 15 children have died. Reporter: The season of amplified advocates. Children are dying, every single year, over and over again. Reporter: The season of sincere and sweltering citizen selfies. I'm going to see how long I can sit in this car with no A.C. Well, I've been in here for about 15 minutes and I feel like I'm going to pass out. I can barely breathe out here. Reporter: All alerting us to the hottest topic in child endangerment -- family vehicles becoming death traps as parents leave children unattended while temperatures rise to lethal levels. Man, don't be the next fool on the damn news talking about you left your kids in the back seat. Reporter: Some of this is heated reaction to the most shocking case of the summer. Justin Ross Harris, a Georgia father charged with murder for intentionally leaving his 22-month-old son to bake in a hot SUV for seven hours. He has pled not guilty. The frenzied coverage of this case and other tragic child deaths is prompting bystanders to take action. As we showed you earlier tonight on "What would you do?" These folks were quick to intervene when they believed a mother left her baby in the back seat. That's my baby, is she crying again? You can't leave her in the car by herself. It's my baby and I'm back here now. I don't care if it's your baby. I'm going to have to call it in. It's not that hot. Reporter: Of course we all want to keep kids safe, but this hot car thing has reached the point where some are saying it's time to chill. We've created a culture where we've almost deliberately confused people as to what constitutes a danger. Reporter: Lenore skenazy is a mother and author known for her opposition to overprotective parenting. She says we are in the midst of a hot car hysteria. Did we just lock our baby in the car? Lily, it's okay! A, B, C. What are you singing to her? People get arrested for this, Mitchell! Reporter: Invading every "Modern family" -- We locked our baby in the car and people are judging us! I swear to god I'm going to break it! Do not break it! We really think that the minute a parent leaves the car, if the car is unattended for any moment at all, a child dies. Reporter: Exhibit "A" -- the case of Kim brooks. I wasn't sort of given the benefit of the doubt and allowed, you know, to make a parenting choice. Reporter: Brooks is a mother and a writer whose ordeal begins on a brisk March morning, temperatures are only in the high 40s. Kim's been visiting her parents with her two kids and is packing for her return flight home. Suddenly she realizes her then 4-year-old son's headphones are broken so she makes the one mile drive with her son to the store. And when you got to the store, what happened? He was playing the iPad game. And he said, you know, can I wait in the car? I don't want to go in, I want to finish my game. It was really a split second decision. Reporter: So what did you do to make sure he was safe? So I pulled as close as I could to the store, opened the windows a few inches. I got out, I locked the door. In my head, I just thought, I'm not going shopping, I need one item. Reporter: Kim said she's in and out of the store in five minutes and with her son still happily tickling that iPad, she doesn't give it a second thought. That is, until she arrives back home and gets a voice message from the police. A stranger had taken cell phone video of her son alone in the car and reported it. When you got on the phone to talk to the police officers, what do they say to you? We want to talk to you about leaving your child in the car. Reporter: But you did come back. Well, that's what I said. I came back within five minutes, he wasn't in danger, the car wasn't hot. Reporter: The answer seems to suffice for nine months until one morning Kim gets another call from the police. They want her in handcuffs. He said, are you aware that there's a warrant out for your arrest? Reporter: A warrant for your arrest for what? Contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Reporter: I mean, most people think that means buying a teenager beer. Right, exactly, that was what I thought, too. Reporter: Despite the fact that she has no history of anything criminal or negligenct, Kim is facing a maximum of one year in prison and a minimum of thousands of dollars in legal fees. At one point, you actually wanted to go to trial, because you felt that they wouldn't be able to win this case. The thought crossed my mind, and I brought it to the lawyers, but he said this is going to be tried in juvenile court. Juvenile courts are always going to err on the side of protecting the child. I don't think you want to risk the consequences. Reporter: Two years later, after Kim commits to 100 hours of community service and parenting classes, the prosecutor finally drops the charges. But the damage is done. Especially to Kim's young son. The result is, he was really frightened, you know? He went through a phase where he would not want to be out of my sight for a second. Reporter: Kim's story is not unique. We spoke to six other moms with similar stories, all of whom wished to remain anonymous. Each recounting the terror of possibly doing time or even losing their kids. Several agreed to be interviewed but then backed out, telling us they remain terrified of the legal and social repercussions of going public. If we start arresting parents for things that could happen there is no parent safe on Earth. Reporter: So, you don't think leaving your child in a car unattended in a parking lot is dangerous? The minute you put them in the car to drive them anywhere, that's the most risk you could be putting them in. More kids die being in the parking lot or behind a car in a driveway. Reporter: Safety advocates acknowledge the number of deaths is small overall. But it's still important. Bottom line, when it comes to car and children and death being left in a hot car is not even in the top ten, is it? But that's not the say that we should turn a blind eye to it. Reporter: But more children die being backed over in a parking lot or a driveway. Or die in car accidents, than they do in -- sitting in a parked car, waiting for their parent. It's true. It's true. Reporter: You and I are both mothers. We both know that there are times when our child doesn't want to do something. There's a tantrum happening. Or they're asleep, and you don't wanna wake them up. Yes. But if -- by definition if you're leaving a child alone in a vehicle they are unsupervised. Reporter: Perhaps it's come to that. Now any unsupervised moment is -- by definition -- a sign of bad parenting. And for Kim brooks, that's what's really scary. You have to be afraid of other people second guessing your decisions as a mother, and calling the police on you. Exactly. My concern now that it seems in addition to being afraid of everything for our kids, we also have to be afraid that we are going to be perceived as not being afraid enough. You'll have a lot of opinions about this. And we want to hear them. Tweet us using #abc2020.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

{"duration":"3:00","description":"When Kim Brooks left her son alone briefly in the car, she never thought it would lead to criminal charges.","mediaType":"default","section":"ABCNews/2020","id":"24911764","title":"Parents Become Subject to Hot Car Witch Hunt","url":"/2020/video/parents-subject-hot-car-witch-hunt-24911764"}