Florida mom and dad charged in hot-car death of toddler daughter left alone for 14 hours

Sheriff's officials say they found methamphetamine in the home, tested the parents' blood and arrested them on multiple charges

Two Florida parents have been arrested on several charges stemming from the hot-car death of their 2-year-old daughter.

Christopher McLean, 32, and Kathreen Adams, 23, were arrested on charges of child neglect and possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia following the death of their toddler on Tuesday, according to the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office.

The girl was left in a car outside the couple’s home in the unincorporated Florida Panhandle community of Prosperity for about 14 hours while McLean and Adams were inside the entire time, the sheriff’s office said.

Additional charges expected

Deputies responded to a 911 call about the girl in the car on Tuesday. They arrived within minutes and began trying to resuscitate her but it was too late, and she was pronounced dead soon after.

Initially, Adams told investigators that she had found her daughter unresponsive in the house but they became suspicious immediately, Holmes County Sheriff John Tate said during a news conference.

There have been four hot car deaths so far in 2023 and it's not even summer.

Deputies noticed that the girl felt very hot to the touch. Paramedics found that her temperature was 107 degrees, he said.

“We knew something wasn’t adding up,” while talking to the girl’s mother, Tate said. “It didn’t pass the smell test. Common sense tells you that most of the time if you’re in a home you’re not going to get that hot.”

When pressed with further evidence, Tate said Adams admitted that she had picked up both her children from a family member's home and got back around midnight.

"When she got home, along with the baby's dad, the baby was asleep in the car seat, and they decided to leave the child in the car and ultimately did not wake up or did not realize the child was in the car until around 3 p.m.," he said.

Deputies searched the couple's and found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, and took blood samples of McLean and Adams, Tate said. The result of those tests are pending.

The sheriff’s office said “additional charges are forthcoming pending the results of the autopsy.”

The girl’s 4-year-old sibling was turned over to the Department of Children and Families.

Hot car deaths in 2023

Renly Andreasen is shown playing in the driver's seat of a car in 2020.

Tuesday's tragedy marked the fourth hot-car death in the U.S. so far this year and the second one in Florida, according to Kids and Car Safety, a group trying to educate the public about the problem.

Florida is No. 2 in the country for hot-car deaths involving children, according to the group.

Temperatures in the region where the girl died reached the high 80s on Tuesday, and her temperature at the time she was found was 107 degrees.

The three other hot-car deaths this year happened in Port St. Lucie, Florida on March 6, Atmore, Alabama on Feb. 27 and Spring Valley, New York on May 9. All involved children between 1 and 2 years old, and all are believed to have been left in cars unintentionally, according to Kids and Car Safety.

In 2022, 36 children died in hot cars, an uptick from lower numbers during the pandemic but less than record years in 2018 and 2019. During those years, a combined 107 children died in hot cars, Kids and Car Safety says.


How does this happen?

One of the biggest problems contributing to driving hot car deaths is the fact that many parents don't think it could happen to them, said Amber Rollins, a spokeswoman for Kids and Car Safety.

"People think that there's just absolutely no way under any condition that this could happen, that someone could actually unknowingly leave their child in their car," she said. "They think, 'This must be a monster.'"

"It can happen to anybody,'" she added.

Amber Rollins demonstrates how to use a window breaker to help break out a child from a hot car in Kansas City in June.

Many parents or other loved ones who leave kids in hot cars aren't charged because of a lack of criminal intent. Those who are charged often are found not guilty or eventually have their convictions overturned because the vast majority are tragic accidents. 

While more than 70 parents have been charged in hot car deaths in the past five years, it's more difficult to say how many have been convicted. Prosecutors who put out press releases when they charged a parent can just as easily drop them without notifying the public. Many cases simply fade away.

Of the 170 deaths in the past five years, Kids and Cars has only been able to confirm 19 convictions, Rollins said.

"But even if they aren't convicted, it still ruins their lives, reputations, careers, friendships, etcetera," she said. "The ripple effect is hard to quantify."


Renly Andreasen sits in his car seat while his mother drives.

Experts say there are a number of ways parents can avoid making the worse mistake of their lives.

For starters, they say there is never a good reason to leave a child alone in a car for any period of time.

Another method is to do a roll call even though it may feel a little silly, Rollins said.

"Anytime you've got multiple children there's always chaos," she said. "Someone's throwing a fit, something is getting spilled, there's so much going on."

Another tip is for parents to create a visual reminder in the front seat that a young child is in the back.

"Put the diaper bag in the front seat." Even better, parents can keep a stuffed animal in the back seat and every time they put their child in the back, they can bring the stuffed animal to the front. "Do it every time and there's much less chance that this could happen to you," Rollins said.

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