Police: Ga. toddler's hot car death not 'simple negligence'

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An autopsy conducted on the Georgia toddler left inside an SUV for seven hours determined the manner of death was a homicide, police said late Wednesday afternoon. The boy’s death was not simple negligence, the police chief said.

“The Cobb County Medical Examiner’s Office is waiting for toxicology test results before making an official ruling as to the cause and manner of death,” police said in a written statement. “However, the Cobb County Medical Examiner believes the cause of death is consistent with hyperthermia and the investigative information suggests the manner of death is homicide.”

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Hyperthermia occurs when a person’s temperature rises and remains above the normal 98.6 degrees. Temperatures reached the low 90s on June 18 when the toddler was left in the car. Within 10 minutes, temperatures inside a closed vehicle can rise an average of 19 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Cooper Mills Harris, of Marietta, died June 18 after being left in his car seat in the backseat of his father’s Hyundai Tucson, according to police. His father, Justin Ross Harris, 33, was arrested about five hours later and charged with murder.

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The toddler’s mother, Leanna Harris, was interviewed by police the night her son died, Officer Mike Bowman said in a news conference Wednesday evening.

The autopsy results were released one week after Cooper was pronounced dead in the parking lot of a metro Atlanta shopping center. The toddler’s death has brought national attention to the case, as well as a sharply divided debate over whether the felony charges against Harris are appropriate.

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“Let us do our job,” Bowman said. “Let us get the information out there. Don’t be so quick to judge.”

In a letter released to the media Wednesday afternoon, Cobb Police Chief John Houser addressed the investigation, but did not cite specifics.

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“I understand that tragic accidents similar to this one do occur and in most cases the parent simply made a mistake that cost them the life of their child,” Houser wrote. This investigation, although similar in nature to others, must be weighed on its own merit and the facts that lead our detectives to charge the father must be presented at the appropriate time during the judicial process.”