Apparently burning babies to death, through negligence or intent, is not much of a crime in Maricopa County.
Allison Gail Rolland nearly killed her five-month-old infant when she abandoned the child in the family car on June 15 as scorching desert temperatures reached 108 degrees.
A frantic passer-by freed the half-dead tot by breaking into the locked station wagon. The baby, Grace, was treated for heat exhaustion and returned to her spacy mother who'd run off to fill a prescription in Tri-City Mall.
On Friday, County Attorney Richard Romley announced that charges against Mother Rolland would be dropped as soon as she completed a twelve-week course in Parents Anonymous.
This is very reassuring.
Mother Rolland already has five children. Apparently the other four kids have survived her tender nurturing, yet she has learned so little that a class from something called Parents Anonymous is going to solve her problems.
The state cannot say to a parent, "You are not bright enough to have a child, let alone a station wagon full of kids." Yet somehow the state feels it can raise Mother Rolland's IQ by sending her to a support group.
I'd be surprised.
Look, the heat in our sunbaked cars isn't a surprise but rather a fact of life in Arizona. Last year we suffered through 143 days when the temperature climbed above 100 degrees. The sale of shade screens for car windows and heat- resistant pads for steering wheels is a going business in the Valley of the Sun. People get in fistfights over covered parking. Everyone has scalded his backside on scorched auto upholstery. And here is Mother Rolland, in the middle of a heat wave, with a prescription that needed filling. Instead of parking curbside in front of her neighborhood pharmacy, she goes to the mall. Well, we all know how much more fun malls are, except this one has no covered parking. After crossing the parking lot, she has to deal with mall crowds and the inevitable wait that accompanies any prescription, even those phoned in in advance. In the face of all this, Mother Rolland decides to lock her five-month-old daughter in an unshaded car that sat upon an asphalt griddle with outside temperatures pushing 110 degrees.
Mother Rolland needs more than Parents Anonymous. She needs jail time.
Thank God a Good Samaritan discovered baby Grace and rescued her.
In the very same mall, in the very same parking lot, eighteen-month-old Curtis Crump was not so lucky. On November 10, 1988, his father, Claude, left the child strapped in the car seat in a closed car for five hours. He'd meant to take the toddler to a baby sitter but spaced it out and only remembered he was a parent when his wife phoned him wondering where their kid was.
Young Curtis had a body temperature of 108 degrees when he died. It was only 88 degrees outside.
No charges were filed. Claude Crump never even had to take a class.
The same year James Michael Krick Jr., two, was driven to his grandmother's home. No one bothered to take young James inside. It was 3 p.m. Two hours later, the little boy was discovered dead. The outside temperature clocked in at 108 degrees; the temperature inside the car was 200 degrees.
The temperature of James Michael Krick Jr., two, was too high to register.
"This is so rare," commented a police detective at the time. "You never see this."
Again, no charges were filed.
In fact, County Attorney spokesman Bill Fitzgerald admits that the office has never prosecuted a parent for roasting a child in the family automobile.
"This is a very difficult area for everyone, the police, the firefighters, the prosecutors. Where do you draw the line and say the parents have been through enough?"
Whatever Mother Rolland has been through, her baby survived her negligence. The real question is how do you get her attention and the attention of other space cadets with kids.
A phone call to the Rollands' residence in Mesa elicited a tape- recorded response that identified the parents as musicians who could not come to the phone because they were " . . . in the midst of a hot recording session."
At Parents Anonymous, Debbie Hunsicker was familiar with the case.
"She made an error in judgment," chuckled Hunsicker. "Sometimes these things have to blow up before you do something about them. While the child is growing, you do not fry their brain."
Hunsicker said her organization helps troubled parents deal with the stresses of raising families.
Yes, but by all reports Mother Rolland is not a troubled parent; she is just dopey to the point of manslaughter. How does a warm, fuzzy organization like Parents Anonymous teach someone to snap out of her dream world?
"There is no set answer," said Hunsicker. "The poor woman did something and got caught. Then it was all blown up. She got caught in the system. You see people do it with animals and children. Sometimes these people get reported. If you don't get caught, you don't think about it."
If you kill your child or almost kill your child, the best place to think about it is in a cell. Mother Rolland, who teaches at Arizona State University, has spent most of her life in school, for all the good it's done. If she has enough time to attend classes at Parents Anonymous, she has enough time to spend a few evenings in jail.