OKLAHOMA CITY – Infants can die if they’re put to sleep in a car seat.
Parents spend big money on safety-regulated car seats and diligently buckle the devices into the cars. But when used incorrectly, a car seat can be deadly for very young children.
“Babies aren’t supposed to die,” said Ali Dodd, whose 11-week old son died after he was put to sleep in a car seat.
Dodd’s son, Shepard, was being cared for at a home daycare in Edmond on April 6, 2015.
According to the police report, Shepard was put to sleep in an unbuckled car seat and placed on the floor in a room, unsupervised.
The daycare operator checked on Shepard two hours after he went to sleep, and he was reportedly blue.
Derek and Ali Dodd wouldn’t see their son alive again.
“I was able to kiss him on the forehead as they wheeled him in,” said Derek Dodd. “He was cold. So I knew it was coming.”
According to DHS, the daycare stayed open for several months after the infant’s death.
The agency eventually revoked the license.
Parents inquiring about the level of care in the home day care will be hard-pressed to find any record of Shepard’s death. It’s not even listed in the public file. In fact, DHS records posted online indicate the following non-compliance for the date of Shepard Dodd’s death: “Child was placed in a car seat to sleep.”
“What it says on there for our incident…it says she allowed a baby to sleep in a car seat. It doesn’t say anything about him dying. Even parents, wouldn’t even know that he died in her care,” said Ali Dodd.
NewsChannel 4 uncovered internal documents from DHS, showing the daycare operator had been warned about unsafe sleeping conditions the week before Shepard Dodd died in her home.
According to the DHS report, “Licensing advised (day care operator) that infants are not to be placed in a car seat to sleep and should not be left in car seat if infant falls asleep in car seat.” That citation came 11 days before Shepard`s death.
“It is unthinkable that these choices were so easy to make,” said Ali Dodd. “That she knew better. She was counseled just days before by DHS. She had had a violation eleven days before.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater declined to file charges against the day care operator because the coroner’s report showed Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID) as the official cause of death.
According to Chief ME Investigator Timothy Dwyer, the manner of death in Shepard Dodd’s case is “unknown.”
The criminal case against the day care operator can be re-opened if new information is presented to the district attorney’s office.
According to the Fetal Infant Mortality Review board, in the past five years, 107 Oklahoma City-area babies have died because of unsafe sleeping conditions. Of those 107 deaths, more than five percent were put to sleep in a car seat, bouncer or infant rocker.
“When she was born. We didn’t think anything like that could ever happen,” said Jennifer Albright, whose two-month-old daughter died while sleeping in a bouncy seat.
Albright’s daughter, Emily, reportedly died the same way as little Shepard.
The medical term they now use is ‘positional asphyxiation.’
“She was strong,” said Albright. “She was healthy. There was nothing wrong with her.”
Positional asphyxia occurs when a baby slouches down in a car seat or infant rocker and their airway closes. Newborns and young infants don’t have the neck strength to lift their heads enough to breathe.
“An infant should always be lied flat on their back to sleep; always on their back,” said Kelli McNeal at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, who tracks infant mortality in the five-county metro area.
In the metro, one in five baby deaths can be attributed to unsafe sleeping conditions.
“It doesn’t discriminate against population, race, religion or socio-economic status,” said McNeal. “It affects every single baby.”
According to the State Health Department, it is a concern at home and at daycare.
Oklahoma DHS policy states licensed daycare providers should only put infants to sleep on their backs, in a crib, alone. Any other sleeping position is a violation.
“It happens every day. It’s so sad. It happens every day. It doesn’t matter how much education you have or how many parenting classes you’ve had. It can still happen,” said Angela Dickson, Safe Sleep and Social Work Coordinator for the Maternal and Child Health Service at State Health.
The Dodd family believes if you don’t know better, you can’t do better.
They are begging other parents to listen: Car seats are not a safe place for your baby to sleep.
“It’s not worth getting a little more sleep or 30 minutes more of quiet time,” said Derek Dodd. “It’s just not worth it when it’s as dangerous as it is.”
Derek and Ali Dodd will go to the State Capitol next week to lobby for change, to make safe sleep standards for infants a priority in Oklahoma.
There is an interim study scheduled for Nov. 3 to look into the issue of safe sleep for infants and DHS policy regarding safe sleep in child care centers.