I believe God periodically places us in exactly the right place at the right time so that we can help others. This belief was affirmed last week when my husband Dale and I were walking through a parking lot. The sun beat down relentlessly even though it was nearly 4:00. The temperature hovered around ninety-five degrees and the youngling trees sprinkled throughout the parking lot offered little reprieve from the toasty afternoon.
As we neared our destination we heard a child screaming from a mini-van in front of us. Dale looked into the van, realizing that there were children inside without an adult. The vehicle was not running and only the front two windows were cracked a few inches.
“Is this the type of situation when you call the police?” he asked.
Reaching my fingers through the driver’s window, I was greeted by an intense heat. “Yes,” I replied. I tried opening the driver and passenger doors but they were locked. The kids continued to scream as Dale went in search of someone to help and began to call the police.
I reached my arm through the passenger window and tried to unlock the door but was unsuccessful. My mind raced. Should I break the window? When does the situation become dire enough to justify my actions? In an instant I had my answer: the children’s safety far outweighed any potential reprimand or questioning of my intentions. I was searching for a weapon to use to break a window when a little boy appeared between the front seats.
“Hi kiddo. Are you hot?” I asked.
“Can you open the door?”
He immediately complied and crawled out. The alarm was triggered by his action but I was distracted from the noise by the realization that there were still two more kids in the car: two girls in car seats in the back. I had to get them out! After letting the boy adjust to the lessened temperatures for a few seconds he agreed to get back in to open a back door.
The poor, helpless girls were sweating profusely and looked disoriented. As I was taking one girl out of her seat a woman came up behind me. Whether the mother or someone else, she was concerned about the children when I explained what I was doing. Shockingly she didn’t scream at me, accuse me of attempted kidnapping or breaking into her car, and didn’t push me away. Instead, she carefully reached in to check on the girl and thanked me for helping.
A security guard approached as I walked away from the van. He was talking to the police. A few minutes passed and nothing happened. Soon he hung up the phone.
“Are the police coming?” I inquired.
“No. The woman with the van just handed the kids the keys so the police said that there is nothing they can do.”
I stared at him, shocked at the police’s lack of responsiveness to the situation. Children were baking in a car and that wasn’t sufficient for them to investigate the situation? Didn’t her actions constitute child endangerment?
I was very upset because the woman could do the same thing to the poor children again in the future and the police didn’t seem to care. The lawyer side of me made me question what constitutes child endangerment in California – the statute is below. What are your thoughts on the situation? What would you have done? Do you think the police acted correctly? Do you think it was child endangerment?
Cal Pen Code § 273a (2011)
§ 273a. Endangering child or causing or permitting child to suffer physical pain, mental suffering, or injury; Conditions of probation
(a) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, four, or six years.
(b) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health may be endangered, is guilty of a misdemeanor.