LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Many of you remember the Judge Wade Naramore story in Hot Springs.
An entire community was shaken when the judge forgot and left his son, Thomas, in a hot car.
Thomas died that day.
We know there are situations where people knowingly walk away and leave a child in a hot car, but Judge Naramore said, he forgot Thomas was there.
Eric Styvusant knows what that is like.
The same thing happened to him.
He forgot, he got sidetracked and left his son Michael in the car on a hot day.
It is a big mistake that can add up to a “life sentence” of guilt.
Returning to normal has been a slow process for a local family who had a child survive being left inside a hot car.
Many will ask how could they let it happen. Others will understand it was a horrible accident.
When Eric Styvusant gets in his car, starts it up and drives off, he remembers that “one day” he took his wife Michelle to work.
“We changed our routine and rather than go to the babysitter first, I took her to work first,” he explains.
Back on the freeway, Michael quietly sleeps in his car seat. Eric gets off on the Abrams Road-Forrest Lane exit.
“Had I turned on Abrams, it would have taken me back to where the babysitter lives,” he continues.
But instead, his brain went on auto-pilot. He turned on Forrest Lane.
“Drove right home, parked the car, went into the house,” he says.
And fell into his normal routine.
“Sat down at the computer to plan the day,” says Eric.
All the while, Michael was still strapped in his car seat. After about an hour and 20 minutes, Eric remembers.
“Oh my God, absolute panic,” he says. “I came out and got him. It was horrifying.”
Michael’s body was limp and he was barely breathing.
“We turned the water on as cold as possible and just stood there fully clothed,” Eric recalls.
When Michelle got the call at work, she could hear in the background her husband screaming Michael’s name.
“I said to Becky, oh my baby. I didn’t think I’d ever see him again,” Eric adds. “We almost lost him on the way to the hospital.”
One thought still haunts Eric.
“I was certain that I had killed him,” he says.
It’s taken a year and a half for Michael to recover. For months he could not speak or grab and hold on to things. He had to relearn motor skills, including walking.
Eric says temperatures in the car that day rose to at least 130. Michael had six heat strokes.
“Of course, you know, there are many people who criticize people you and say how on earth could you forget your son?,” he says.
When asked what to say to those people, Eric says. “I understand your anger. I was that person. We all believe that it can’t happen to us.”
“That is the absolute worst mistake to make is to think that it couldn’t happen to you,” Michelle says.
Eric and Michelle know how to raise children. Between them, they have eight. Their words of wisdom?
“Take that one second to glance into the back seat,” they say.
The Department of Meteorology and Climate Science keeps track of the numbers.
Their records show that since 1998, there have been 16 reported hot car deaths in the state of Arkansas.
That number could be higher depending on whether the cause of death was listed on the death certificate.
This ordeal has changed Eric Styvusant’s life entirely.