Sept. 7, 2007 -- The mother of a 2-year-old Ohio girl who died in the family sport utility vehicle while she went into work will not be prosecuted for the child's death.
"A mistake is not a crime," Clermont County Prosecutor Don White said.
White said he believes that it was a tragic accident and that Brenda Nesselroad-Slaby is already suffering enough.
"Good mothers don't do this. I don't know how to live without my kids. They are my life," Brenda Nesselroad-Slaby said in an interview with police after her 2-year-old daughter, Cecilia, was found dead in the family SUV.
Nesselroad-Slaby, an assistant principal at an Ohio middle school, was on her way to work last week when she said she realized it was too early to drop off her toddler, so she stopped to buy doughnuts for colleagues at school. Distracted by the change in her routine, she says she completely forgot her little girl was sleeping in the back of the car.
"She never wakes up. I just put her in the car seat and she never wakes up," Nesselroad-Slaby said in tears.
Cecilia was in the back seat of the car when her mother backed up to the school entrance. It was all recorded by the school's surveillance camera. She unloaded the doughnuts and walked past Cecilia in the back seat on the driver's side a half dozen times.
She parked her car and went into the school around 7 a.m. Eight hours later, the toddler was discovered by someone in the parking lot. Teachers frantically called 911 and attempted CPR.
The temperature outside hovered around 100 degrees all day. Police say it could have reached 140 degrees inside the car.
"I don't know how you go on having done this to one of your kids and ever forgive yourself," Nesselroad-Slaby said, her voice breaking as she slumped against the wall and answered questions.
Police reports showed that Nesselroad-Slaby had left her little girl in the car before, while picking up and dropping off her older daughter at preschool — one incident occurred a week before Cecilia died.
Still, White says no charges will be filed against the 40-year-old mother.
"Everyone that looked at this case, the Union Township police … their report concluded that she forgot her child, that she did not intentionally leave her child in the car," White said. "She would have to have known she left the child in the car to for this to meet the reckless standard."
A Community Divided
Nesselroad-Slaby's record as a teacher is glowing and her friends describe a devoted mother.
"A lot of people look at her as a monster or an assistant principal who drives a Mercedes, and they're painting this picture that the wealthy can buy our way out," family friend Gwen Balasubramaniam said. "That's not what she's about. She's a very loving, giving devoted person."
The Ohio community is deeply divided over whether Nesselroad-Slaby should be prosecuted.
The case has fueled emotions on both sides, with some saying that the mother killed her daughter and got away with it and others believing she shouldn't be judged too harshly because this kind of tragedy can happen to anyone.
White says he knew the public would be divided on the decision not to prosecute, but says he stands by his decision, saying the mother is already clearly suffering.
Friends say that right now she is still struggling with her guilt.
"I was trying to be everything to everybody and I failed my daughter," the tearful Nesselroad-Slaby said in the police interview.
She remains on paid leave from her position as assistant principal.