Mother whose daughter died in hot car now advocates for child safety

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MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - The issue of children being left in hot cars is in the spotlight once again, after a 2 1/2-year-old boy left in a hot car died on Monday. The boy's father, 41-year-old James Koryor, was arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of manslaughter and child abuse in connection with his son's death.

In Arizona, there have been several other cases where the person responsible for the child unknowingly and unintentionally left them in the backseat of a car.

How many times have you left your phone or keys in the car and not realized it until minutes or hours later?

As easy as it is to do that, mother of six Dawn Peabody says that's how she lost her daughter. She now advocates awareness so this doesn't happen to another family.

Peabody says there isn't a moment in the day she's not reminded about her daughter, Maya, who died from heat stroke on October 18, 2008.

"It's the worst day of my life,” she said.

Peabody's husband had the 2 1/2-year-old girl with him that day, something she said was out of their normal routine.

"He got out of the car thinking my daughter was at work with me," she said. "About an hour later someone said, ‘Where's Maya?' and he thought, ‘Oh she's taking a nap with grandma; I'll go check,' and went to go check, and she was not with grandma.”

That's when Peabody says they found Maya locked inside her husband's hot car.

From that moment on, she's been an advocate for awareness, to try and save another child's life.

"For parents to think it can't happen to them, they're the ones who are in danger,” she said.

Peabody says she believes preventing these sorts of tragedies always starts with a plan.

"Even if I know for a fact I don't have the kids with me I still open up the van door and check,” she said.

Another helpful tool? Place a stuffed animal in your child's car seat when they're not back there, and when your child is occupying the car seat, take that same stuffed animal and move it up front, beside you, as a visual reminder that there's someone back there.

“The other thing, too, is to work with your local daycare and having a program... a program that calls you if your child does not arrive on time,” she said.

Any reminder that works, Peabody says, is a good one.

"Slow down. Stop talking on the phones when we're driving; that's a big distractor,” she added. “Just pay attention to your environment. I wish I still had her (Maya) here and hope I'm doing her proud by sharing this message.”

There are a few devices available online that will alert you when you're no longer within a certain distance from your child, but Phoenix Police say they do not recommend people rely on technology since it can easily fail.

Maya is among 28 children who have died in Arizona since 1998, after being left in a car.

Arizona ranks third in the US for vehicular heatstroke tragedies. On average nationwide, there are 38 preventable deaths per year, and more than half occur unintentionally while the child is in the care of a parent.

Police emphasize that prevention ultimately comes down to personal responsibility.
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