Toddler dies in hot car after dad refused to let cops break window
A Nevada man was charged Monday in the hot car death of his 21-month-old daughter after police said he refused to allow either officers or his brother to break his car window to get the girl out of the locked vehicle.
Sidney Deal, 27, of Las Vegas, is charged with child abuse or neglect causing substantial bodily harm, Clark County Jail records show. His bail was set at $20,000.
An arrest report obtained by local media details the minutes that led to the death of Sayah Deal. According to KTNV in Las Vegas, Deal told police he’d accidentally locked his keys – and his daughter – inside the car after an argument with his girlfriend.
The girlfriend told detectives she made Deal to leave after the fight. He did, taking the baby with him, but returned a few minutes later for his cellphone.
The Las Vegas Sun reported that the arrest affidavit indicates Deal argued with the woman for another 15 minutes, trying to get his cellphone, before going back to the car. He knocked at her door again a few minutes later after realizing he’d locked his keys in the car.
Deal asked his girlfriend to call his insurance company, a call she placed at 3:06 p.m. According to the police report, she remained on the phone for 23 minutes with an insurance representative, who told her Deal’s policy did not cover roadside assistance.
When they quoted him the price for a locksmith, Deal told her to hang up the phone, the Sun reported.
Four minutes after she hung up the phone, at 3:33 p.m., Deal flagged down police officers and told them what happened. The arrest report states that Deal refused the officers’ offer to break the window or call a tow truck or locksmith.
He asked instead to borrow a cellphone to call his brother, authorities said. At that point, Sayah had been alone inside the car for at least 42 minutes.
Deal told his brother that the air conditioner in the car was running and his daughter was fine. He asked for their mother’s insurance information so he could call for roadside service.
Instead, his brother, Samid Deal, rushed to the scene to help.
“He immediately took his shirt off, wrapped it around his knuckles and was ready to punch the window,” the arrest report states. “Sidney stopped him and said he wanted to wait for a tow truck. Sidney insisted he not damage his new vehicle, stating he had just bought the car and did not have the money to repair a broken window.
Police officers eventually broke a window to rescue the toddler but it was too late. Rigor mortis had already begun to set in, according to the Sun.
It was unclear how long officers waited to break a window but the report states that they believe the baby had been inside the hot car for more than an hour by the time she was removed. According to AccuWeather, Las Vegas’ high temperature on Monday was 98 degrees.
Depending on weather conditions, the interior of a car parked in that heat can reach temperatures of over 170 degrees.
Las Vegas Metro Police Department spokesperson Larry Hadfield said the officers waited to bust the window because Deal was “adamant about protecting the car and they could see the child breathing,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
“The dad said that the A/C was on and the kid was playing, and when the officers arrived, they saw that she was breathing,” Hadfield said. “But when the officers got concerned for the child’s well-being, they broke the window.”
Neighbors who witnessed the failed rescue criticized the officers for not acting more quickly. Shellie Ratliff, 64, told the Review-Journal that she watched Deal and the police try for close to two hours to get the little girl out.
The officers at one point asked her if she had a wire clothes hanger to pop the lock.
“I don’t understand why police didn’t bust that window open first,” Ratliff said. “You can always get another car, but you can’t get another life.”
Another neighbor, 14-year-old Alaijzha Shields, disputed the official police account of what happened, saying that officers would not let anyone break the window. Shields said the officers claimed they needed a sergeant’s permission to damage the car.
“They looked inside, and I guess the baby wasn’t moving, so the officer just opened the window, they unlocked the doors and Sidney took out the baby,” the teen told the newspaper.
Shields’ brother, Darius Jones, said he always saw Sayah with Deal, either with Deal carrying the girl in his arms or walking with the toddler holding onto his finger. They were always laughing and playing, he said.
“I honestly believe it was a tragic accident,” Jones said. “I can genuinely say that since that baby was small, he’s loved on her.”
Deal’s mother, Artavia Wilson, told KLAS in Las Vegas that her son was not negligent in how he handled the situation. She said officers were on the scene when she spoke to her son about sending a locksmith to get her granddaughter from the vehicle.
“We were on FaceTime and he asked the officers to help him,” Wilson said Tuesday outside the courthouse. “I said, ‘Did y’all check all the doors, did y’all check everything?’ He said, ‘Yes.’”
She pulled the mask down from her face to emphasize that her son believed his daughter was in air-conditioning.
“The car was running and she was in the car,” Wilson said through tears.
The Sun reported that Deal told detectives Sayah, who he’d not yet fastened into her car seat, had initially been up and walking around the seats of the car. She eventually lay down on the floor of the car.
He thought she had fallen asleep, Deal said.
Wilson said while she was on the phone with Deal, he and the officers all said the baby was fine and that she was “knocking at the window.” The child was never unattended because Deal was never able to get back into the apartment for his cellphone, she said.
“That’s when the police rolled by, he flagged the police down and he started asking neighbors to use the phone to call us, to call his family,” Wilson told KLAS.
Wilson said she could not believe the accusations made against her son in court Tuesday.
“He works. My son is a great father,” Wilson said. “He’s a very responsible young man. He has his own apartment, his own car and he had full custody of his daughter. So he’s very responsible, because I raised him as such.
“They’re not going to smear my son like he just was the average Joe Shmoe out here, ’cause he is not.”