Six weeks and 200 miles apart, two young Georgians died the same way: inside a hot car.
A South Georgia 3-year-old boy was the latest such death in the state, which is now fifth in the country in the number of those tragedies. Since 1995, 34 children in Georgia have died in hot cars, and 33 have died this year across the U.S., according to the Kids and Cars organization. And though high-profile cases — such as the 2014 death of Cooper Harris in Cobb County — have made headlines, they have not stopped the deaths.
“There’s an increase in awareness, but at the same time, that’s not decreasing the numbers of tragedies,” Amber Andreasen, Kids and Cars director, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We haven’t cracked the barrier of, ‘It could happen to me.’”
On Monday, the GBI arrested Jamie Lee Camacho, 24, and charged her with felony murder and cruelty to children in the second degree after the death of her son. Jakob Eli Camacho, 3, died July 28 after being found in a car parked at his family’s home in Reidsville, about 200 miles southeast of Atlanta.
According to investigators, Jamie Camacho called 911 shortly after 7 p.m. to report the boy missing. Tattnall County deputies found Jakob locked in a vehicle at the home, the GBI said. The boy could not be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Tattnall Sheriff Kyle Sapp asked the GBI to assist with the investigation due to his small department’s limited resources, he said Tuesday. Camacho was booked into the Tattnall jail and was later released after posting $50,000 bond.
Camacho’s arrest comes three weeks after a woman was arrested in metro Atlanta after allegedly leaving her 1-year-old daughter inside a car for six hours.
In June, Dijanelle Fowler, 25, left her baby in the car while she was inside a hair salon, according to DeKalb County police. Skylar Fowler was found dead in an Emory University Hospital parking deck after her mother had driven there and called 911, reporting that she herself was having a seizure, The AJC previously reported.
“She seemed to be a good kid. No criminal history,” Capt. Jerry A. Lewis said. “Just made a mistake. A horrible, horrible mistake.”
Fowler, a former basketball standout in high school and college, was being held without bond late Tuesday at the DeKalb jail.
Though every child’s death in a hot car involves different circumstances, many involve doting parents who never imagined themselves capable of forgetting their own child, according to Andreasen with Kids and Cars. But other times, a parent or caregiver makes the decision to leave a child behind.
“There’s no excuse for (purposely) leaving a child alone in a vehicle,” she said.
Whether criminal charges are filed, and what those charges are, differ depending on the circumstances.
In response to child deaths in hot cars, Georgia lawmakers added a new second-degree murder law that went into effect July 1, 2014. Before then, those accused in similar crimes were likely charged with involuntary manslaughter, which allows a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The sentence for a second-degree murder conviction ranges from 10 to 30 years.
Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) said he wrote the bill after seeing discrepancies in how cases were handled. Coomer, a lawyer, has handled criminal and civil cases and has worked as a prosecutor.
Since it became law, the second-degree murder charge has been filed a handful of times in hot-car deaths.
Last August, a Carroll County father was indicted on two counts of second-degree murder after allegedly leaving his twin 15-month-old daughters to die in a hot SUV. Ariel Roxanne North and Alaynah Maryanne North died Aug. 4, 2016, after their father, Asa North, left them in the backseat outside of the family’s Carrollton home, according to investigators. Asa North’s trial is expected to begin in September.
In January 2015, a northwest Georgia grandmother was arrested after leaving her 13-month-old grandson alone in her car – with the heat on — for several hours while she visited friends. In May, Barbara Michelle Pemberton pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 10 years on probation.
Last month, lawmakers introduced a bill, the Hot Cars Act 2017, that would require car manufacturers to equip vehicles with a warning system to alert people when a child has been left inside. Advocates say the technology already exists, and the alarms could save lives.
“The more layers that you have for your child, the better,” Andreasen said. “Because of the “it will never happen to me” syndrome we have, education and awareness is just not enough. It’s going to take technology to help.”
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