By Philadelphia Inquirer
Their arrangement was neither a daily routine nor out of the ordinary.
As frequently as three mornings a week, Rimma Shvartsman of Feasterville would pick up Daniel Slutsky, the 2-year-old boy who lived two doors away, and drive him to the Penndel day-care center where she worked and Daniel attended.
Wednesday, authorities say, that practice ended in an extraordinary tragedy.
After parking her van outside the Fairy Tales Day Care Center on Highland Avenue, Shvartsman, 46, left the toddler behind in the back seat on a day when temperatures would climb into the 80s.
More than six hours later, she found the boy unresponsive in his car seat, carried him inside and called 911. Daniel was rushed by ambulance to St. Mary Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 5:17 p.m.
An autopsy confirmed that the boy, whose thick shock of dark hair made him look older, had died of hyperthermia.
Today, the neighbors’ cul-de-sac of tidy townhomes was a portrait of sorrow. Shvartsman’s residence was dark and silent, while a stream of mourners came and went at the Slutskys’ home, where the family was sitting shiva.
Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry called the toddler’s death “a horrible tragedy,” but had not determined whether charges against Shvartsman were warranted.
“This is just a nightmare no parent should have to experience,” said county Coroner Joseph Campbell, whose office ruled the death accidental.
Daniel’s funeral and burial were today, their swiftness in accordance with Jewish custom.
Shvartsman was described by Henry as a co-owner of the day-care center, which state records show was established in 1993. She had picked up the child around 9 a.m., and had arrived at the day care by 9:30 or 10 a.m., Henry said.
Shvartsman returned to the van at 4:45 p.m. “She has indicated that she forgot the child was in the car at the time,” Henry said.
Neighbor Irina Alpert stood red-eyed outside her home, which separates the Slutsky and Shvartsman dwellings.
Through Alpert, the Slutskys declined to comment in person, but asked that “people take extra care with their children,” Alpert said. “They hope that this example might help save the lives of other children.”
Michael Mustakoff, an attorney representing the day care and Shvartsman, released a statement today expressing sorrow over “the death of this beautiful boy.” He said the center was cooperating fully with criminal investigators and state regulatory officials.
“This is a tragic accident and of course, if there was any way that Rimma could revisit yesterday’s events and undo them, she would do so in an instant,” Mustakoff said. “Our great sadness and prayers go out to the Slutsky family in this terrible time of loss.”
Mustakoff said Shvartsman drove Daniel to the day-care center frequently, but not on a set schedule. He declined to comment about what might have caused Shvartsman’s lapse.
The phenomenon is not as rare as some might think. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that 15 to 25 children die across the country each year after a parent or caretaker forgets a child is in the back of a car.