Neighbors of a 3-year-old who died after she was found unconscious inside a minivan grappled Tuesday with the death of the little girl with big brown eyes.
“She’s a little girl,” said Miguel Mendez, a 17-year-old neighbor.
The Durham Police Department is investigating the death of Leslie Ramirez, who was found shortly after 7 p.m. Monday on the 1100 block of Hearthside Street. She was pronounced dead a short time later.
Police are awaiting autopsy results to find out what killed her. No charges had been filed as of Tuesday afternoon, and investigators weren’t answering other questions such as how long she was in the car.
Neighbor Jose Muniz said he was sitting on his balcony Monday when Leslie’s father was dropped off after work and approached the family’s green minivan, likely because its headlights were on.
“I think he (saw) inside and he (saw) the little girl that was inside,” Muniz said.
The father ran inside an apartment, possibly to get keys, while a friend tried to break the window.
“But once he hit the window, the door popped open by itself,” Muniz said.
The little girl appeared to be pulled from the front driver’s side door, he said. Her father laid her on the ground and “tried to get her back,” Muniz said.
Mendez saw Leslie being put in the ambulance, he said. About 10 minutes later, EMS workers appeared to tell the parents that she didn’t make it.
“(The mother) was crying and yelling,” Mendez said.
On Tuesday, three candles and a bowl of water sat on a towel, marking where Leslie’s father tried to revive her.
The death marks the 28th incident in the United States this year in which a child 14 or younger died after being left in a hot car, said Janette Fennell, president and founder of KidsAndCars.org, a national nonprofit that works to keep kids safe in and around vehicles. That’s up from 19 children last year at this time.
North Carolina ranks sixth in such deaths, with 31 fatalities since 1991, according to the organization, which gathers information from media, police and coroner reports and individuals.
About 55 percent of the time a child is left unknowingly in the vehicle. About 28 percent of the time the child enters the vehicle on their own, according to the organization. About 13 percent of the time the parents knew the child was in the vehicle, and in about 4 percent of cases the cause is unknown.
“It is a very misunderstood situation,” Fennell said. “It’s not a lack of love. It’s when your memory lets you down.”
The worst mistake anybody can make is to think it won’t happen to them, Fennell said.
Helpful steps include always checking the back seat every time you park, putting an employee badge or cell phone there to remind you to check the area, and keeping a stuffed animal in a car seat and placing it on the front seat when the baby is the vehicle. Parents should also ask their childcare provider to call them if the child doesn’t arrive.
To prevent children from crawling into unattended vehicles, parents should keep vehicle doors locked at all times, keep keys and remotes out of reach and immediately check the trunk and vehicle if a child goes missing.
Police asked anyone with information to call Investigator E. Ortiz at 919-560-4440 or CrimeStoppers at 919-683-1200. CrimeStoppers pays cash rewards for information leading to arrests in felony cases, and callers never have to identify themselves.