Death of infant left inside a truck in Lansdowne ruled accidental

The Baltimore County state's attorney's office will determine whether to pursue charges against a Lansdowne man in the death of a 16-month-old girl who was left in a hot truck for four hours Friday.

The medical examiner's office ruled that Sybriya Towels' death was accidental and gave the cause as hyperthermia, the medical term for excessively high body temperatures. Police have not identified the male relative involved in the case but said he failed to drop the girl off at day care and left her in his truck.

State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said Monday his office is reviewing the case. "We have to look at the file and determine what, if any, charges should be filed," he said.

Sybriya is the first Maryland child to die in a car this year, but the 17th nationwide. Two other children also died on Friday. An 8-month-old Alexandria, Va., boy died after police said his mother left him in her car before going to work, and a 3-year-old girl was found dead inside a car in Shreveport, La., according to media reports.

About half of such cases lead to charges, according to Jan Null, a certified consulting meteorologist at San Francisco State University. He tracks such cases and his data are used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Null said cases tend to fall into three categories. Sometimes, children are accidentally left in a vehicle. In other cases, adults leave children in a vehicle on purpose. In still others, children gain access on their own.

Baltimore County police said that in the Towels case, the man was supposed to drop the girl off at the Highland Village Head Start Center on Friday morning. Authorities say he instead drove to their shared home and went inside to sleep, leaving her in the vehicle.

Police and fire units were called to the 4100 block of McDowell Lane just before 1 p.m. and the child was pronounced dead at St. Agnes Hospital.

Though many car deaths take place in the summer, Null said it is always dangerous to leave a child in a vehicle. He noted one death in which the temperature outside was only 67 degrees.

"It doesn't have to be exceptionally hot day, especially when a child is left in the car all day," he said.

When the body temperature reaches 104 degrees, it's considered heat stroke. And at 107 the body begins to shut down, he said. Children's bodies are more susceptible to heat than adults' because their body temperatures rise three to five times faster, Null said.

Maryland has a law against leaving children under the age of 8 unattended in a car. Null said he's seen broad differences in the ways prosecutors handle such cases.

A Timonium man was charged in 2005 with child abuse resulting in death, child neglect and reckless endangerment, after he left his 13-month-old son inside a car when he went to work.

David Barnhill initially was charged with child abuse resulting in the death of a child, which carries a maximum 30-year sentence. He later agreed to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge of leaving a child unattended in a car.

Howard County police did not pursue charges against an Ellicott City woman who left her 23-month-old girl inside a hot car in 2009 because the death was an accident, according to news reports.

Earlier this year, a former Washington police officer was convicted of two counts of murder in Prince George's County for fatally shooting his girlfriend and for leaving her 1-year-old daughter to die inside a hot car.

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