Virginia mom fights for change after toddler's hot car death
RICHMOND, Va. - Anderson Beck was the whole world to his mom and dad.
The 18-month-old was a big ball of sunshine zooming through his Richmond, Virginia, home. His mother, Laura Beck, remembers her son constantly running up and down the hallways playing peekaboo.
Anderson Beck was the first and only child of Laura and Aaron Beck. He was born on Dec. 23, 2020, in Richmond, Virginia. (Laura Beck)
In June 2022, Laura lost Anderson to a hot car death, followed by the death of her husband, Aaron, who took his own life upon discovering their son in his back seat.
"I don't even get to hear my child tell me that he loves me," Laura cried. "I'll never get to see him go to his first day of kindergarten, and I'll never watch him graduate. But he was such an amazing little boy."
Laura said the impact her husband and son made on this world is nothing short of extraordinary. She hopes that by sharing a little about them, it'll open the eyes of many people who truly believe that this could never happen to them.
Laura loved her fascinating husband.
The two moved to Richmond in December 2019, right before the pandemic hit. They then found out that they were pregnant.
Laura and Aaron married six days after they had Anderson on their back porch on a Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. with masks on.
"It was a special moment," said Laura about her hilarious and intelligent husband. "I never met anyone in my life that was so passionate to learn new things and graciously share his experiences."
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Laura Beck said the impact her husband and son made on this world is nothing short of extraordinary. (Laura Beck)
Aaron’s laugh was infectious. He was authentic and kind. He was selfless. He was so full of love. Yet among all his qualities, he was best at being a father to his son.
"When we had Anderson, we would just stare at him," Laura recalls.
The two would hold their son and wonder how they made such a beautiful, tiny little human.
"He was perfect. Every single inch and ounce of him," Laura said. "And every day, for those 18 precious months of his life, we doted on our baby boy. Aaron was so proud to be a papa to Anderson, and watching them play and bond was truly magical."
Laura and Aaron would spend hours outside playing, taking walks and pulling Anderson in his little red wagon down the street. Anderson also loved being pushed in his swing under the huge tree in his front yard.
The proud mother can now only stare at the pictures and videos she captured over the 18 months of her son’s life with his father.
CHILDREN EXPERIENCE HEATSTROKE SYMPTOMS WITHIN MINUTES OF BEING IN A HOT CAR
In June 2022, Laura Beck lost her son, Anderson, to a hot car death, followed by the death of her husband, Aaron, who took his own life upon discovering their son in his back seat. (Laura Beck)
She also wonders how she got to this heartbreaking point, remembering the times her family of three laughed, sang songs and ate together at the dining room table.
"In a matter of hours, all of it stopped," Laura cried. "The laughing stopped. The singing stopped. Everything just stopped so abruptly."
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
On the day Anderson died, Laura said her husband had loaded their son into the car after breakfast to take him to childcare.
Their morning routine on June 28, 2022, was a little derailed when Aaron had to run back inside the house to grab his cell phone that he had forgotten. He returned to his car, got in and drove straight to work.
"Anderson had been sick," Laura said. "He missed the previous day at daycare, and our routine had just been slightly off that Tuesday morning."
Hours into the day, Laura sent her son's childcare a message asking how he felt that morning since he was coming back after being sick.
"Hearing those words that my child didn't show up that day made me ill," Laura said. "Asking for her to repeat herself and having to listen to her walk down the hallway to his classroom just for her to confirm that he wasn't there."
Laura said it was the longest couple of minutes of her life. She immediately called her husband, asking where Anderson was, but he was so confused. Laura said he immediately realized that he did not stop at daycare.
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Laura and Aaron Beck married six days after they had Anderson on their back porch on a Tuesday morning. (Laura Beck)
"I rushed to his work. I dialed 911," Laura recalled. "I was traveling down the highway with my emergency lights on, passing everybody I could possibly pass to get to wherever my baby was."
By the time she got there, the police had shown up. However, Aaron had already left upon discovering their son dead in his back seat.
"We didn't know where he had gone, but we soon found out that he had driven home," Laura said. "He took his own life in the woods behind our beautiful home … our little place of heaven where we were supposed to grow as a family and watch our sweet boy grow into the wonderful man that his father was."
Laura feels there's a stigma behind these types of tragedies. She wants others to know that it does happen to amazing parents.
"And Aaron was one of them. Anderson was our entire world," she said.
‘How could anyone forget their child in the car?’
Laura admits she was once naive and close-minded, clueless that something like this would never happen to her. She now sees past the clouded reality.
"How could anyone forget their child in the car?" she once questioned. "I went from that to a grieving widow, suffering immensely from the heartache of losing my baby boy and my husband all in one day."
WHAT IS THE HEAT INDEX AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO YOUR HEALTH?
Laura Beck said occupant detection and alert technology would have saved her son’s life. (Laura Beck)
Dr. David Diamond, a professor in the Cognitive, Neural and Social Division of the Department of Psychology at the University of South Florida, is an expert on the neuroscience of hot car deaths.
"It is important to stress that these parents do not have a reckless disregard for the care of their children," he said. "Rather, common factors like a change in routine, lack of sleep or a phone call can all have an effect on even the most responsible parents."
From a brain science perspective, parents can, through no fault of their own, lose awareness of the presence of a child in the car, Diamond adds.
"That is why it is imperative that there be a system to detect the presence of a child in a vehicle," he continued. "This is a modern phenomenon which requires a modern solution."
Detect to protect
More than 1,050 children have died from heatstroke in hot cars since 1990, and at least another 7,300 survived with varying types and severities of injuries, according to data collected by Kids and Car Safety, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping young children and pets safe in and around vehicles.
Laura now joins those other grieving families – along with members of Congress, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and Kids and Car Safety – to call for the child protection "hot cars" provision enacted in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to be advanced quickly and to ensure effective detection and alert technology is mandated.
With kids at unnecessary risk of death and injury every day, Kids and Car Safety says it is urgent that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, meets the Congressionally mandated deadline for the final rule to be issued in November.
"We’re approaching summer, and very soon, cars will become death traps if kids are left inside them," said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). "Absent-mindedness is not a crime, but the systemic failure to protect children is reprehensible. Seatbelts, airbags, better construction of cars have already saved countless lives, and this simple step – a detection sensor – will in fact save lives. The success that we’ve had in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a major accomplishment, but the U.S. Department of Transportation is lagging in promulgating this rule. We can and must do more."
Just like Laura, no one thinks a hot car tragedy can happen to them, which is why Janette Fennell, president and founder of Kids and Car Safety, feels we quickly need effective technology as standard equipment in all vehicles.
"It is heartbreaking to know there are families out there right now with their beautiful children who will lose them by summer’s end in a preventable hot car tragedy," she said. "Enough is enough! We must detect to protect."
$50 can save a life
According to Kids and Car Safety, occupant detection and alert technology is currently available and costs less than $50. It provides comprehensive and compelling solutions to end these senseless tragedies.
"This technology would have saved my son’s life," Laura said. "It would have also saved my husband’s life. Why isn’t this already in every single vehicle? Why do we have to wait for more lives to be destroyed before action is taken?"
Laura Beck said her husband was proud to be a papa to Anderson and watching them play and bond was magical. (Laura Beck)
With motor vehicle crash fatalities skyrocketing and kids in preventable peril of hot car tragedies every day, Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said it is unconscionable that auto manufacturers, with limited exceptions, are not putting technological solutions into cars as standard equipment.
"In sharp contrast, the industry has spent billions of dollars in the race to develop and produce autonomous vehicles (AVs), a technology with unproven safety benefits," she said.
Chase is urging Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to issue final rules requiring hot car detection and prevention systems in all new vehicles to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by heatstroke in hot cars.
"I don't want any other parent to have to stand in my shoes," Laura said. "I'll live the rest of my life in Aaron and Anderson's honor. I will fight until no more babies are lost in this way."