Alabama parents charged with manslaughter as 3-year-old found dead in hot car, they last saw him at midnight
Dakota Heath Fowler, 20, and Brandi Michelle Burks, 21, are facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the charges
FRANKLIN COUNTY, ALABAMA: Two Alabama parents were arrested and charged after police said their three-year-old child died because they left the toddler inside their car on a day when temperatures outside soared to 93F.
The tragic death came to light after deputies from Franklin County Sheriff's Office received a call at around 4 pm on Sunday, August 9, about an unresponsive three-year-old in a car on Church Street in Hodges, according to AL.com.
When they arrived at the scene, they found the toddler unresponsive. Emergency medical responders were unsuccessful in their attempts to resuscitate the child, identified as Bentley Fowler, and he was declared dead the same evening.
Authorities subsequently questioned the toddler's parents, Dakota Heath Fowler, 20, and Brandi Michelle Burks, 21, who told them that they had last seen the child at around midnight the previous day when they put him to bed. When they woke up the next day at around 3 pm, they couldn't initially find the child before tracking him down to their car.
Becky Palmer, a neighbor, said she saw several sheriff deputies and first responders show up at the couple's apartment. "A lot of Hodges rescue squad people. There was about 12 vehicles out there, people were out there trying to help those people," she revealed.
Bentley's body was sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for an autopsy and Fowler and Burks were both charged with manslaughter for the death of the toddler. They are being held in Franklin County Jail without bond, and if convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison.
Sheriff's officials said the case remains under investigation, with Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver sharing some of the details with WAFF. "It was reported that they put the child to bed at midnight and then they went to sleep and slept until 2 or 3:00 PM that day and you know that’s a long time for nobody to have any contact with that child," he said.
"[The child] had been in there for several hours as you know the temperatures yesterday inside a vehicle would’ve been well over triple digits," he added.
However, Oliver said he believes the death was a tragic accident. "I don’t feel there was any intent there," he told AL.com. "I think it was neglect, which sadly cost the little guy’s life. It’s just a sad situation all around. These types of cases are really hard for everybody."
Bentley is the 15th child to die in a hot car in the United States this year, according to KidsAndCars.org, a national nonprofit child safety organization. "He was my special person," Palmer said of the toddler. "I’ve known him ever since he was born. He was a cool little boy he was my favorite and I miss him dearly today for sure."
MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) previously reported on a similarly tragic case from Oxford, Alabama, where an 11-month-old boy died after he was left in a car for more than three hours with his twin sister at a car dealership. Both were rushed to the Regional Medical Center emergency room after they were found but the young boy could not be saved.
Calhoun County Coroner Pat Brown said all indications point it to be a tragic accident, adding, "no one can fathom the way this family feels, and I especially want to make sure that people are sympathetic to this family and that they get all the facts before they pass judgment".