July 5, 2001 -- Authorities in Iowa are trying to decide whether to file charges against a hospital CEO whose 7-month-old daughter died after being accidentally left in a minivan while she rushed off to attend meetings.
The county medical examiner has ruled the death accidental, but prosecutors have yet to decide whether to charge Kari Engholm over the death of her daughter Clare.
Engholm left Clare in a minivan last month on a day when outside temperatures approached 90 degrees. Engholm was rushing to attend a series of meetings at Dallas County Hospital in Perry, Iowa.
Engholm's family, it seems, has forgiven her, calling the death a tragic mistake, the result of an overstressed woman who was used to her husband dropping the little girl off with the baby sitter.
"Kari is a loving mother and my best friend," her husband, Dennis, said at a memorial service for Clare last month. "She loved Clare deeply. She always remembers and celebrates our children's milestones."
Prosecutors are expected to decide soon whether a fatal lapse of memory by a woman otherwise considered a good mother could be considered criminal.
Engholm had forgotten she was supposed to have dropped the child at the baby sitter and discovered Clare's body when she picked up her elder son from a child-care center after work, according to The Associated Press.
"It is clear from the facts of this case that there was nothing willful, nothing knowingly done by this parent," William Kutmus, an Iowa attorney who defended a woman accused of criminal negligence for leaving her baby in the bathtub while she went to answer the phone, said today on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
In that case, the woman was on the phone long enough to have two cigarettes, and in the meantime her baby drowned.
Need for Emergency Plans
"I think under these circumstances, this case really amounts to at least civil negligence, and probably more of an accident type," Kutmus said of the Engholm case.
The baby sitter who was expecting the child to arrive in the morning called the Engholm home to find out where the girl was, but no one got the message until it was too late.
"I think for any parent who is so overwhelmed with work and in these demands — and there are so many women — you have to have emergency procedures in place," Ann Pleshette Murphy, ABCNEWS' parenting contributor said on Good Morning America. "What if this child had been ill and had to go to the hospital, what would have been the plan? Why wasn't Dad contacted?
"Those are some of the questions, but this tragedy does strike you to the core because if you are the kind of parent that many women are these days, you can see yourself in a situation where something like this could happen," she added. "It is almost unbelievable, but at the same time there is this little bit of, 'Oh my God, I've been in a situation like this.'"
‘A Very Gentle-Natured Soul’
The case is just one in a rash of such incidents this year. Earlier this month, a Southern California foster mother left a 3-year-old girl in a sport utility vehicle for 15 minutes and she died, succumbing to 108-degree temperatures.
In May, a Colorado woman left her 13-month-old son strapped in a baby seat while she went to work at a McDonald's. She is charged with child abuse resulting in death and could face 16 to 48 years in prison.
In March, a Texas woman returned to her car after a day at work at a shopping mall to find her 5-month-old son dead, overcome by heat. She said she was sure she had dropped him off at daycare. Though the temperatures that day only climbed into the 70s, police said the temperature inside the car was probably more than 100 degrees.
When temperatures outside range from 80 degrees to 100 degrees, the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The temperature inside a closed car rises most quickly during the first 15 minutes that it is left in the sun, according to the CDC.
Janice Summerson, a family friend, told the Des Moines Register that Engholm was not the kind of woman to get frazzled under the pressures of her job, even when she was juggling numerous projects.
"I have always known Kari as being a calm, cool, collected, composed, methodical individual," Summerson said. "I guess I've always known she's a very gentle-natured soul."