Mom Charged and Going to Trial for Briefly Leaving Baby in the Car

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It’s a scene every parents recognizes: You’re in your car. You’re tired. Your baby is sleeping and you only need to go into the store, the bank, the library, whatever, for a second. For just a moment, you consider all the facts and wonder if maybe, just this once, you could let your little one continue to snooze while you hurry in. It’s tempting, right? But is leaving baby in the car worth the risk? This new mom seemed to think so, and now she’s living a nightmare: going to trial for leaving baby in the car for all of 3 minutes.

28-year-old Heather DeStein of Prince William County, VA was parked outside of a Wawa when she decided to leave her sleeping 3-month-old daughter in the car. DeStein was tired and hungry and in need of a snack. Her baby, Reilly, had just fallen asleep for a nap. We all know how magical a moment that can be. Who wants to wake a sleeping baby? When DeStein saw there was no line inside, she decided to make a mad dash for a donut.

That’s when leaving baby in the car turned ugly

Upon her return, she discovered a “Good Samaritan” had reported the unaccompanied minor. A cop was waiting right beside her car.

“You know there’s a baby in there, right?” the office allegedly said to DeStein.

The new mom explained she leaving baby in car she had only been gone for 3 minutes (a fact confirmed by the Wawa’s security camera footage). The officer took her information and ID.

“I started crying. I was freaked out. I said, ‘Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.’ That sort of thing. I was trying to cooperate in hopes he would let me go with a warning. There’s no law against what I did. I was in shock about the whole thing,” DeStein recalled on Scary Mommy.

And then it got worse

To make matters worse, CPS opened up an investigation to check up on the child’s safety. There were no problems found, and though CPS finally closed the case, she’s still being charged with “contributing to the delinquency of a child.” This is probably because there are currently no laws stating that it is illegal to leave a child unattended in a car in Virginia (in fact, few states have clear laws on the matter). At her lawyer’s suggestion, DeStein took the suggested 18-hour parenting course in the hopes it will help her case when it goes to trial, which is set for July.

“I’m trying to just get this over and done. I know I’m going to probably end up with this misdemeanor on my record. I just want it to go away,” says DeStein.

It’s unfortunate that this mom, who suffers from postpartum anxiety and depression, and who is 18-months sober, is now having to carry the burden of this additional stress—stress that could easily lead someone into relapse or worse. While I can understand public concern for a child seen in a car (one can’t be sure how long a child has been left, and how much longer they will be left for), I would also hope that we could get new moms more help to get through these difficult times. Help in the way of free therapy and on-call services, and maybe a mother’s helper to aid in those moments when you’re just too exhausted to do things the “right” way and find yourself cutting corners in the process.

(Image:  Pixabay / Tammydz)

CORRECTION: an earlier version incorrectly stated DeStein had already plead, which is not the case. She hasn’t, won’t, and is taking the case to trial set for July. The story has been updated accordingly.