In an effort to stop children from being left in cars during the hot summer months, the Wilmington Police Department is offering free rear-view mirror hangers to the public to serve as a reminder for local parents to check their vehicles before they lock them.
The initiative comes nearly one week after District Attorney Ben David, along with Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous and other area leaders, announced that a Wilmington mother will not face charges in the death of her 8-month-old son, who died from being left inside a hot vehicle for nearly eight hours on May 25.
The mirror hangers are available at the front desk of WPD headquarters, police spokeswoman Cathryn Lindsay said. The hangers are also being distributed to local childcare facilities.
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.
Calling the child’s death an accident, David announced on July 1 that the decision not to charge Wilkins was reached after “extensive legal research” and hundreds of hours of investigation by detectives with the police department.
The case was the result of “the perfect storm or circumstances” that arose from the mother’s change in her daily routine, sleep deprivation, and “outright forgetfulness,” David said.
The district attorney was joined by several local leaders last week 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.
Lindsay said the hangers distributed by the police department were created to help serve as a reminder for parents to “look before they lock” and to prevent “future tragedies.”
According to a meteorologist consulted during the investigation, the temperature in Wilmington reached 86 degrees on May 25, and the inside air temperature of the car could have been in excess of 135 degrees. In estimates from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, when outside temperatures range from 80 to 100 degrees, the heat inside a vehicle parked in direct sunlight can rapidly soar to between 130 and 172 degrees. The interior temperature builds most rapidly in the first 15 minutes when a vehicle is left in the sun.
In 2015, it is estimated that 24 children in the nation under the age of 6 died as a result of being left in a hot vehicle, and 16 children have already died in 2016, Lindsay said, adding that the number reflects the single death reported in Wilmington this year.
“That’s 16 deaths and we are just getting to the hottest part of the summer,” Lindsay said.
The death of Wilkins’ infant son in May was the first reported death of a child from the result of a being left in a hot car in New Hanover County and the only one in North Carolina this year, Lindsay said.