Boy, 2, found dead in minivan

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 4, 2013

Police are conducting an investigation into the death of 2-year-old James Nelson, who was discovered Sept. 3 in a blue Dodge Caravan on Marmoor Drive in Dequindre Estates Trailer Park, near Hamlin and Dequindre Roads.

Police said his mother’s roommate discovered the boy at around 5 or 6 p.m. strapped in his car seat in the rear passenger seat. The unlocked minivan was in the driveway in front of their trailer and its windows were rolled up. She called 911 from a neighbor’s residence as residents were trying to administer medical attention at the scene.

Shelby Township Police Chief Roland Woelkers said the boy’s mother, 21, told police she left for work at an office in Rochester Hills at around 8 a.m. It is unclear, he said, who is responsible for putting the boy in the van or leaving him unattended, because there is a discrepancy in the information provided by the boy’s caretakers.

Woelkers said the mother did not have a set routine for who took care of her son while she worked and that “people get confused in our busy world and get involved in things.”

EMS and police responded at approximately 6:10 p.m. and rushed the boy, who was not breathing, to Troy Beaumont Hospital. Medical staff pronounced the boy dead upon arrival. His body temperature was 108 degrees at the hospital, Woelkers said.

The Macomb County medical examiner conducted an autopsy Sept 4 and gave the cause of death as hyperthermia, or heat stroke. Woelkers said the autopsy ruled out abuse and that he was unaware of any previous police intervention or child-related incidents surrounding the family.

Woelkers said it was safe to say the boy was dead several hours before being found.

Woelkers said five or six detectives are working the case, conducting interviews of neighbors and family members, as well as looking into the backgrounds of those involved. He said the investigation is still in its preliminary stages and police are not pressing charges, nor do they have anyone in custody.

“We’re still trying to interview people and do follow-up on it,” Woelkers said. “The 2-year-old boy was left in a car for a long period of time and, unfortunately, he died in the car. It is a tragedy.”

On Sept. 3, the weather conditions were sunny and temperatures were in the low 70s. Woelkers said that it does not take long for cars to get as hot as 130 degrees.

Woelkers said Nelson was the mother’s first and only child. He said the boy’s father lives out of state.

Police said further investigation is required to gain more insight into a situation they currently view as a “tragic accident.”

This year, Nelson’s was the 33rd juvenile vehicular death in the country and the second in Michigan, according to Jan Null, a meteorologist, lecturer and researcher at San Francisco State University. He said that since 1998, at least 598 infants and children have died in hot vehicles in the U.S., eight of those in Michigan.

“We’re concerned about any child left unattended,” he said. “Even in the cooler months, it is a very dangerous activity. If you see a child in a car alone, even if the windows are open, (the police) need to know about it and adults need to step in and help us out with that.”

Police are asking that anybody who had been in the area and seen or heard anything during the day call the department at (586) 731-2121.