The woman whose grandson died of hyperthermia after she left him in a vehicle for several hours has been charged with second-degree murder, Walker County sheriff Steve Wilson said today.
Barbara Michelle Pemberton, 47, of the Kensington community has also been charged with second-degree cruelty to children, he said.
Her bond has been set at $100,000.
An infant died because his grandmother purposely left him in a car, with the heater running, and the temperature rose to more than 100 degrees, Walker County sheriff Steve Wilson said.
Shadoe Braxton Pate died of hyperthermia while in the care of his grandmother, Barbara Michelle Pemberton, 47, of Chickamauga, Wilson said at a press conference Thursday, Jan. 14.
The 13-month-old’s death was the result of Pemberton leaving him for more than 5 hours — strapped in a car seat but unattended — while she visited friends at 42 Circle Drive in Rossville, off North Jenkins Road, in the Fairview community
Wilson said Pemberton’s 2005 Ford Focus was left in direct sunlight and the outside temperature about 52 degrees.
The grandmother supposedly was babysitting while her daughter, Braxton’s mother, was at work, he said.
Pemberton arrived at her friends’ house about 10:30 a.m. for a visit that lasted into the afternoon, the sheriff said.
The couple she was visiting asked about the child still in the car, to which Pemberton would check on by looking out the home’s window.
Upon finding Braxton unresponsive, the couple and Pemberton attempted CPR and called 911.
The infant was pronounced dead upon his arrival at Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe.
Officials expect it will be several weeks before results of toxicology tests being conducted by the state crime lab in Decatur are available, and at this time no charges have been filed against the grandmother.
When Pemberton went to leave the residence after more than five hours, she found the infant unresponsive, Wilson said.
This marks the second time in less than six months in Walker County that an infant has died of hyperthermia in a vehicle. On Sept. 5 an 11-month-old boy was left in a vehicle at a residence in Chickamauga. The death was ruled an accident and district attorney Herbert “Buzz” Franklin decided not to charge anyone in that case.
“It is a very unfortunate, tragic event here with this child dying,” the sheriff said. “An autopsy was conducted today (Jan. 14) at the Georgia Bureau of Investigations crime lab in Decatur and the initial findings of the autopsy are that the child died of hyperthermia from extended and elevated long-term exposure to heat. That is the preliminary we have at this time. Obviously, additional testing will take much longer and we expect to have a full report in six to eight weeks.”
Wilson said investigators believe the child was asleep when the grandmother arrived at the residence. She left the heater on low, he said.
“Somehow that conversation lasted, and the interaction in conversation lasted over 5½ hours without her going back to the car and checking on the child,” Wilson said. “We do believe that she maybe looked out the window toward the child on several different occasions. But there is no evidence that she ever went back to the car to check on the well-being of the child.
“At this point, it is believed that the heat inside of the car, with the heater on, with it being in direct sunlight, and it being 52 degrees outside, that the inside temperature of that car swelled way past 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This is not something that we hear about in January, in this part of the country. It is something we normally hear about in May through September.”
Wilson said Pemberton is now at home and has been thoroughly interviewed, as well as the couple at the residence and the mother of the child.
Wilson said he does not believe the mother would have left the child with his grandmother if she felt Pemberton was incapacitated in any way.
“She appears to be fully aware of her surroundings and aware of what was going on that day,” Wilson said. He said there was no sign of drugs or alcohol inside the house.
Wilson said it is possible Pemberton could face criminal charges.
The grandmother and the couple began CPR on the child when he was unresponsive. When emergency responders arrived, they continued CPR until they arrived at Hutcheson Medical Center, where the child was pronounced dead.
Wilson said bodily fluids were taken from Pemberton and it will take six to eight weeks to know if any drugs or alcohol were in her system at the time of the child’s death.
Wilson said there was not outward evidence that she was impaired.
“They (the couple) said they encouraged her on several occasions to go check on the child and she would look out the door, look out the window, and (then) start talking about something else,” Wilson said.
He said the car was too far away for a visual check on the child.
“She would gesture with her head and eyes looking toward the car. But the car was about 35 to 50 yards from the home,” he said. “We can’t fathom how she could have checked on the child, even visual, much less physically looked in on the child.
“I think it is obvious that, for whatever reason, she chose not to go back and check on him, which is difficult to understand and comprehend,” Wilson said.