If you heard about the Deltona Middle School teacher who left a 6-month-old baby in her car Friday and thought, “I would never forget my child,” then you need to hear from Stephanie Salvilla.
“When I heard about parents who left kids in cars, it terrified me,” she told me. “I was one of those parents who did research … I was one of those parents who had a routine to prevent it.”
Salvilla, now 44, is a good mom.
She’s a planner and a goal setter.
In high school, Salvilla was student-council president and a cheerleader.
She went to college and then to graduate school, where she met her husband.
She earned a master’s degree in environmental science. The couple took time to establish their careers and make sure they were financially stable before Salvilla became pregnant.
At 33, she had her first child, a daughter. She diligently breast-fed and made her own baby food.
“I didn’t have the baby bumper in the crib because of the warnings about SIDS,” she said. “I have always done everything the right way.”
When she was 38 she had her second child, a boy named Gannon. The family lived in the town of Sebastian, just north of Vero Beach.
She interviewed day cares and, after her maternity leave, established a new routine.
Typically she dropped off her 5-year-old daughter at school and then took Gannon to day care before going to work.
She even had a habit of putting Gannon’s bottles in the front passenger seat and her purse in the back as a reminder.
But on the morning of July 23, 2009, all of her planning failed. A change in routine caused the baby bottles to end up in the back seat.
She dropped her daughter off at school.
Salvilla thought she dropped off 5-month-old Gannon, too.
“Still to this day, the memory I have is that I dropped him off,” she said.
Then she went to work.
Salvilla remembers being happy.
“It was a Thursday, and I was going to take Friday off and see one of my girlfriends from college,” she recalled. “We were talking, and I was sending her pictures of Gannon. He was on my brain all day long. But he was at day care, and there was nothing in my brain that told me otherwise.”
It wasn’t until she left her office late that afternoon that she realized she left Gannon in her SUV.
Police estimate the temperature inside the car was as high as 120 degrees that day.
Gannon was dead.
“To know that my body caused this, that my brain caused this …,” she said, breaking down into tears.
Six years later her emotion is still raw.
Police charged Salvilla with manslaughter, but the charge was eventually reduced to leaving a child unattended in a vehicle. She entered a plea of no contest and served five years’ probation.
Today she wants to help other parents and works with the advocacy group KidsandCars.org.
So far this year, 22 children have died after being left in cars, four of them in Florida.
On average, more than 30 children die this way every year.
And though today’s cars have seemingly unlimited technology for safety – alarms that sound if seat belts aren’t buckled, when headlights are left on, when other cars get too close – carmakers haven’t done a thing about babies left in cars.
There are after-market devices that send alerts to parents’ smartphones, and Evenflo came out with a car seat this summer with a plug-in alarm. But most parents don’t think they would ever forget their child, so the devices haven’t gotten much traction.
During the summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had no plans to make auto manufacturers come up with alarms for when a car seat’s five-point harness remains buckled after the car is turned off.
That infuriates Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsandCars.org.
“Who decided it’s more important not to have a dead car battery than a dead baby?” she asked.
Parents such as Salvilla, the family of little Trenton Cason-Collins, who died Friday, and so many others would like to know the answer.
©2015 The Orlando Sentinel