Investigation: Baby dies in car, father forgot to drop infant off at daycare

By Holley Nees - email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A Huntington man forgot to drop his 3-month-old daughter off at daycare and found her in his car nearly seven hours later, according to a Lufkin Police investigation.
According to the report, Christopher W. Stanaland, 27, left his home Tuesday morning and dropped his son off at school before arriving to work at Story-Wright Printing & Office Supply, located at 222 Shepherd Ave. at 8:30 a.m.
The report states Stanaland did not realize he had forgotten to drop off his daughter, Isabella Marie Stanaland at daycare. Stanaland returned to his vehicle, a 2004 Nissan Armada, and found his daughter in the rear passenger seat of the vehicle, strapped in her child safety seat.
Stanaland removed his daughter from the vehicle and a co-worker called 911, the report stated.
Lufkin Fire and EMS found that Isabella was dead when they arrived.
The initial investigation indicates she died from prolonged exposure to extreme heat, as the outside temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. An autopsy will be performed today to confirm the cause of death. Lufkin Police and Child Protective Services will conduct a parallel investigation.

"I think these cases stand out so much not only because it's such a tragedy, but because all of us know that could happen to us," said Debra Burton, a licensed professional counselor.

Police say it appears the whole incident was an accident.

"One of the things that we see in the grief process is when the initial loss occurs, especially with the death of a child," Burton said. "It's so painful that we go into an emotional shock."

The family is respectfully declining to comment.

The car where the baby girl was left for hours is still in the parking lot at Story-Wright across from Lufkin City Hall, a reminder of yesterday's tragic incident.

"The biggest problem is an infant doesn't make a lot of noise," Burton said. "Most of the time they're asleep in the car seat, so when we walk out of the car there's not something that reminds our brain that that's happened and our brain kind of fills in the gap that, 'Oh, baby is where baby is supposed to be.'"

She says the loss of a child is one of the most difficult things to deal with. Whittney Sullivan agrees.

"I'm sure he's very upset with himself," Sullivan said. "I know I would be, I know I would be praying and wishing I could turn back time."

But, since you can't go back, Sullivan wants to raise awareness to help prevent future tragedies.

"With schools and daycares, you know if they know a child is supposed to be there that day, maybe give a little bit more effort and call the parent and say, 'Hey you know your son or daughter was supposed to be here today is everything okay?'" Sullivan said.

Burton says you have to deal with your feelings at a manageable pace.

"I tell people that grief is a journey and time doesn't fix it, doesn't cure it, but it's part of the journey," Burton said. "It was an accident, but there's that sense of responsibility it adds to the despair and the depression."

Lufkin Police are still treating the case as a criminal investigation.

"The purpose for treating everything as if it is a criminal investigation is because we don't want to miss anything," Det. J.B. Smith said. "We don't want to find out during the autopsy that there was something else and that we missed a piece of evidence."

Smith says they're looking at every angle in order to rule out any possible criminal negligence.

"If the investigation shows that there was some child neglect, there's a possibility, but at this moment, it appears that everything was purely an accident," Smith said.

Smith says it's particularly hard knowing the tragedy happened this close to home, just feet from the police department.

"Very tough, knowing that it was here," Smith said.

The case will likely be presented to prosecutors to decide if it will go before a grand jury. District Attorney Clyde Herrington said while it is too early to tell what will happen with this case, that cases of this type usually go to a grand jury for review.

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