NEWS- Fatal distraction: Charges certified in baby car death
The 911 tape was wrenching: "No, no, please. Oh, no, please. Oh, help me." As it played in Charlottesville Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Friday, June 1, the woman on the tape, Raelyn Balfour, began sobbing in the courtroom, as did her husband and family members.
While acknowledging the tragedy of the situation, Judge Edward DeJ. Berry certified two felony charges against Ms. Balfour to the grand jury for the March 30 death of her nine-month old son, Bryce, whom she left all day in a vehicle parked at the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School where she works. Balfour, who told an investigator she "simply forgot" to drop the baby off at the sitter, is charged with second-degree murder and felony child neglect.
Her husband, Jarrett Balfour, a contractor at the National Ground Intelligence Center who is scheduled to deploy to Iraq later this month, detailed events leading up to the baby's death. His wife loved Bryce "very much and she always put him first," he said.
"Lyn doesn't sleep well," said Mr. Balfour. She did not get to sleep until 1am March 30, and was up again at 3:30am for at least 30 minutes when Bryce woke up and couldn't find his pacifier, Mr. Balfour said.
For most of Bryce's young life, his father drove him to the babysitter, who had lived north of their Greene County residence. The sitter recently had moved to Forest Lakes South, and the parents split "50-50" the task of delivering him in the morning, depending on their work schedules.
Because of an auto accident, the couple had carpooled that week. Raelyn Balfour dropped her husband off, and he didn't hear from her again until 4pm, when he received a distraught phone call. Asked to describe her crying, Mr. Balfour said, "Between one and 10, she was probably a 25."
He said his wife's stress level was not unusual. "I don't think Bryce created any additional stress on either of us," he said. "It was just tiring."
UVA police Detective David Roach interviewed Raelyn Balfour after the lifesaving efforts on the infant ended at UVA Medical Center. She waived her Miranda rights and said the day was "typical," Roach testified. "She had a very busy day with graduation coming up."
The mother had returned a phone call from the sitter around 3pm and left a message, said Roach. It wasn't until she spoke to the sitter around 4pm that she learned she had not dropped the child off.
Bryce died of hyperthermia, and his body temperature registered 110 degrees in the emergency room, a medical examiner testified. He compared being left in the car for seven hours to the ordinary experience of baking. The examiner said he found no evidence of abuse or drugs during the autopsy.
The high temperature that early spring day was 66 degrees, but even at 5pm, when UVA police evidence technician William Sowers measured the interior temperature of the Balfours' navy SUV, the temperature rose from 82.5 degrees to 98 degrees in 40 minutes.
Ms. Balfour's attorney, Northern Virginia-based John Zwerling, who represented UVA stabber Andrew Alston in 2004, argued that his client's forgetfulness was not a "willful act" and the accidental death "was not a gross or wanton disregard for human life."
"It was the manner of her care that is willful neglect," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Elizabeth Killeen. She pointed out that Raelyn Balfour had an uninterrupted 29-minute cell phone conversation that morning driving into work, and if she'd had a wreck because she was distracted, that would have constituted willful neglect. "This is criminal conduct- an accidental death in felony circumstances. She had a duty of care. It is gross and willful."
The distraught mother will remain free on $25,000 bond, and the judge lifted a restriction that she not be around children without supervision. She has a 14-year-old son, and with her husband leaving for Iraq, it would pose an undue burden to care for the son, said her other attorney, Dana Slater.
The judge also will allow Balfour to leave the state for a military drill and to take her 14-year-old son when she accompanies her husband when he leaves for Ft. Benning in Georgia June 16 before heading to Iraq.
The Father's Day weekend will be difficult for the family, Slater said, and June 18 would have been Bryce's first birthday. "It'll be good for the family to be together," she said. #