No charges filed in May hot car baby death

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District Attorney Ben David at the podium, joined by local leaders , for an announcement in the death of a boy in a hot car. Photo by Christina Haley
New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David at the podium, joined by local leaders , for an announcement in the death of a boy in a hot car. Photo by Christina Haley

A Wilmington mother who left her 8-month-old son for nearly eight hours in the back of a hot car will not face charges in the boy’s death, New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David announced Friday. In light of the accident, area leaders urged parents to be aware of the dangers of leaving both children and pets in vehicles this summer.

The infant son of 36-year-old Nancy T. Byrd-Wilkins was found dead in his rear-facing car seat in the row behind the driver’s seat of her SUV when she went to pick him up from his daycare in the 4200 block of Wilshire Boulevard on May 25. During a press conference in Carolina Beach, David called the tragedy an “accident.”

Wilkins had altered her routine that morning and took the infant to an early morning doctor appointment, while her husband had dropped off a toddler sibling at the preschool. After the doctor appointment and stopping for coffee, which she did before work daily, Wilkins just went to work “not realizing that her infant was asleep in the back,” David said.

Wilkins arrived at work at 9:36 a.m. and left at 5:17 p.m., and did not leave for lunch or return to her car until the end of her work day, David said.

“It was only after asking for her children and being told that her infant had not been dropped off that Mrs. Wilkins suddenly came to the horrible realization that her baby had remained in her car for the whole day,” David said. “The frantic call to 911 and the aftermath are well documented.”

The decision not to charge Wilkins was reached after “extensive legal research” and hundreds of hours of investigation by detectives with the Wilmington Police Department, David said, adding that Wilkins’ day at work was captured on video. Blood testing also revealed Wilkins was not impaired or under the influence of any substance.

According to a meteorologist consulted during the investigation, the temperature in Wilmington reached 86 degrees that day and the inside air temperature of the car could have been in excess of 135 degrees.

“The case before us today was the result of an accident,” David said. “It was the result of the perfect storm or circumstances arising from change of routine, sleep deprivation, and outright forgetfulness.”

But David said without some intentional act in the chain of events that resulted in the boy’s death, there can be no criminal responsibility on the part of the child’s mother.

“I know there are people that feel strongly about this case and I am not trying to tell you how to feel. We have to base our verdicts on the facts and law and not emotion and sympathy,” David said. “And the same should be said for charging citizens to begin with.”

David was joined by several local leaders at Friday morning’s press conference to urge area parents to double-check their vehicles for their children before leaving the car. Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous asked parents to create a reminder to check the back seat of a vehicle for children by leaving something like a cell phone, handbag or brief case in the back seat.

New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon urged citizens who may witness a child in a hot vehicle to call for help.

“The DA and I both agree – any Good Samaritan who breaks out the car windows of a locked vehicle to help a child or pet, there will be no criminal charges brought forth,” McMahon said.

Cars can heat up much quicker than one would expect, especially in the local beach communities, Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Daniel House said. When the outside temperature is 80 degrees, the temperature inside a vehicle can climb up to 123 degrees within the first hour, he said.

“We not only see this with kids, we see this with animals,” House said.

The death of Wilkins’ son was the first hot-car death in New Hanover County, area leaders said.

Others joined by David, House, Evangelous and McMahon at Carolina Beach on Friday, included Carolina Beach Police Chief Chris Spivey, New Hanover County Department of Social Services’ Child Protective Services leader Mary Beth Rubright, and New Hanover County Chief District Court Judge J. Corpening.