Utah mother who left 11-month-old in hot car won't face charges in girl's death

By Wendy Leonard, Deseret News

Published: Wed, Aug. 27, 2014, 3:30 p.m. MDT

 Skyah Suwyn and her mother, April Suwyn, of Hurricane.

Skyah Suwyn and her mother, April Suwyn, of Hurricane.

(Family photo)

ST. GEORGE — A mother who left her 11-month-old baby in a hot car had a "lapse of awareness" and won't be charged in the death of her daughter, the Washington County attorney said.

"She is a good mom that suffered one of the most terrible tragedies that could ever befall any parent," said Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap.

April Suwyn, of Hurricane, will not face charges in the Aug. 1 death of her daughter Skyah, the cause of which is accidental hyperthermia, according to Belnap.

"The idea that a responsible parent could forget a child in a hot car is difficult for many people to understand, yet statistics show that it happens all too frequently to people from every walk of life," Belnap said, adding that "justice will not be served prosecuting April Suwyn because she was not blameworthy of mind."

Suwyn was not simply distracted from whatever she was doing that day, but in "a time of stress, sleep deprivation or varied routine," unconsciously forgot about the baby and actually believed she was sleeping in a safe place, he said.

"April cannot explain why she had a lapse of awareness regarding her daughter," Belnap wrote in a letter clearing Suwyn of any crime.

He said she told investigators that "from the time she arrived home until she discovered her daughter in the car seat, April believed that Skyah was safely sleeping in her crib."

The day Skyah died started differently for Suwyn, according to the attorney's report, as the baby had been teething through the night and neither mother nor daughter got much sleep.

Suwyn skipped her usual trip to the gym but kept a later nail appointment with a neighbor. Construction was happening outside the family's home, adjusting Suwyn's typical parking circumstance after taking her other two children to a babysitter for the day.

Typically, the baby would have been watched by Suwyn's sister, who lived in the home, but that was not the case that Friday morning, so Skyah was loaded into the car with the other two children, boys ages 3 and 5.

The baby normally napped between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Suwyn discovered her daughter in the back seat of the car when she returned to the baby sitter's house, after the nail appointment, and her conduct after the discovery of her child's death was appropriate, Belnap said.

"She told them to hurry because Skyah was sleeping at home. As April was loading the boys into the car, she saw Skyah in the car seat and started to scream," the letter states.

Suwyn told the baby sitter to call 911 and performed CPR on the baby. Skyah was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

The outside air temperature in the area was 83.9 degrees at 11 a.m. and 89.6 degrees at 1 p.m.

Belnap said he decided not to charge Suwyn after reviewing guidelines set by the FBI, as well as what he called the science underlying memory lapse. He said across the United States, about 50 percent of related cases end in prosecution.

"That shows this is a very tough issue," he said.

More than 335 people have donated $17,165 to the Suwyn family following Skyah's death, using a GoFundMe site set up to support them. Others have publicly voiced negative concerns with what happened to Skyah, an expected outpouring of heartbreak, Belnap said.

The county attorney concluded that criminal prosecution wouldn't help the situation, given the "pain April is already suffering from the loss of her child due to her inadvertent lapse of awareness," he said.

Belnap also said he believes criminal charges wouldn't prevent the same thing from happening to someone else, or again to Suwyn, and are therefore unnecessary.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

1. Bifftacular
Spanish Fork, Ut,
Aug. 27, 2014

Glad to see some compassion and common sense being used here. Something we see all too little of these day. I don't believe for a second that this mother intentionally did what she did. It was a horrible mistake. Prosecuting would simply be piling on and would serve no purpose.

2. djofraleigh
raleigh, NC,
Aug. 27, 2014

How is a parent to live with this? I believe the parent did not plan this nor did she "run into a store" for a minute knowing her baby was in the car as a knowing risk. She forgot. Her routine was broken. Surely, somewhere down deep, the mother wants punishment, so give her some future community service time (after grieving) to speak and bear witness to other mothers & fathers about how possible this mistake is. She could raise awareness in others based on her story, painful as it would be to retell, but she might save a baby that way, in the name of her daughter.

3. marmajean
Bedminster, PA,
Aug. 27, 2014

I read a post about a month or 2 ago to put your left show in the back seat of the car so you have to go back there and get it, that way you'll see your baby and remember to take him/her with you when you leave.

4. FDRfan
Sugar City, ID,
Aug. 27, 2014

djofraleigh, She does not need to be sentenced to anything. She needs to forgive herself and look forward to the day she will again hug this little child. My children lived when they could have suffered death because of some foolish or careless thing I did - like taking a curve too fast or failing to check a weather report. I'm sure that I had more serious lapses in judgement than this mother. Thank you Bifftacular for your comment. Thank the officials who are involved.

5. hermounts
Pleasanton, CA,
Aug. 27, 2014

Un-be-freakin-lievable that she gets away with this!