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Arizona mom reminds everyone hot car deaths are avoidable

As the heat cranks up in Arizona, a mother who lost her child 16 years ago after she was left in a hot car is now working with first responders to spread awareness.
Credit: 12 News

PHOENIX — It’s an unimaginable tragedy, one that will never leave a parent: the death of a child because of a moment of confusion or forgetfulness.

It’s a tragedy that Dawn Peabody knows too well. For the past 16 years, Dawn and her husband, Wes, have lived their lives knowing their two-year-old daughter Maya is no longer here because she was left in a car, exposed to the Arizona heat.

How does something like this happen?

It was 95 degrees that Saturday. The Peabody's had company in from out-of-town-Wes’ parents-and the kids were excited. The morning started off just right. Because Dawn had to work that day, the family loaded into three cars to head to the restaurant for breakfast.  

Maya ordered eggs with syrup, her favorite.

When it was time to leave, Maya’s two brothers rode with the in-laws, and Maya with Wes.  Now, normally, Maya goes to work with Dawn on Saturday mornings, while Wes and the boys hang out. But today was different. On that day, they were out of their normal routine.

When the two cars arrived back at the house, the boys ran into the backyard, where their grandfather planned to teach them roping- he was a true cowboy. Wes joined them in the backyard.

A little later, someone asked where Maya was. Napping with Grandma? She wasn’t there. At work with Mom? Not today. That’s when Wes ran to the car to find the little girl suffering from Heatstroke.

“The Arizona heat had taken our daughter’s life.” Dawn Peabody remembered, sharing her daughter’s story with Phoenix Fire Department and Phoenix Police Department Wednesday morning.

Summer is here

While the calendar may disagree, anyone who has spent any amount of time in the Valley knows; Spring is over, and Summer is here for at least five more months.

Firefighters and police officers handles calls like Maya’s too many times each year. In 2019, 53 children had died from being left in a hot car, according to Kidsandcars.org.  It is estimated that Maya was sitting in 130-degree temperatures for at least an hour before she was discovered.

“This is something that is very important to Phoenix Fire Department and the Phoenix Police Department,” said Rob McDade, a Captain with Phoenix Fire Department. “First Responders go on these calls. They’re traumatic for the family, friends and the First Responders that go [on the call].”

Can new technology make a difference?

Dawn Peabody laments how her car- as she says- will notify her if her lights are on, tires are low or it’s due for an oil change but, “did nothing but act as an oven” on the day Maya died.

Dawn and Wes channeled their grief to push for legislation to require all new cars to be equipped with a sensor to help avoid deaths like Maya’s.

“A ten dollar change to the technology that is already out there could have saved my daughter’s life.”

The Peabodys are in support for H.R. 3593, known as the “Hot Cars Act of 2019." The bill requires auto manufacturers to include technology that already exists, according to the bill, in all new vehicles. The vehicle will sound an alarm to notify the driver that something, or someone is in the backseat.

Look before you lock

Nothing can replace an attentive parent. Dawn stresses that her main message is, “Look before you lock.”

Always checking the backseat before walking away from a vehicle, even if there is no way the driver should have the kids that day. 

“In Maya’s memory please, I ask you to look before you lock.”