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Focus shifts to mother of toddler in hot car death

Published: Sunday, July 06, 2014 @ 4:31 AM
Updated: Sunday, July 06, 2014 @ 4:33 AM

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Leanna Harris’ husband, prosecutors alleged Thursday, had two sides: Churchgoing family man and another, darker persona, one that compelled Ross Harris to knowingly leave their 22-month-old son to die, locked inside a sweltering SUV.

Based on her own, sometimes confounding words, along with evidence disclosed at her spouse’s probable cause hearing Thursday, many are wondering whether there’s another side to Leanna Harris.

>> RELATED: Prosecutors: Father was sexting while child sat in hot car

The 30-year-old dietitian, who two years ago moved to Georgia from Tuscaloosa, Ala., has not been charged with any crime. But police have disclosed that, like her husband, she had researched children dying in hot vehicles prior to her son Cooper’s death, telling officers it was her “worst fear.” On average, 38 kids die each year after being trapped inside automobiles, according to

Investigators described her behavior the day of her son Cooper’s death as odd, if not suspicious.

When informed by workers at her son’s day care facility that Cooper had never been dropped off, she calmly responded, “Ross must have left him in the car. There’s no other explanation,” according to Cobb County Police Det. Phil Stoddard’s testimony Thursday.

Then, when reunited with her husband at police headquarters after he had been charged with murder, Leanna Harris asked him, “Did you say too much?” according to Stoddard.

“There isn’t enough to make her a co-conspirator … yet,” said criminal defense lawyer Esther Panitch.

>> RELATED: Photos: Dad accused in son’s hot car death appears in court

Whatever Leanna Harris’ role winds up being in this case — witness, defendant or supportive wife — prosecutors and the public are taking note of her public actions. What they’ve seen so far is stoicism that seems at odds with what has become a public tragedy.

She has expressed little emotion throughout. At Thursday’s hearing, she stared blankly ahead, chewing gum as prosecutors delivered one bombshell after another.

When she called home June 18 with the grim news of Cooper’s death, her mother could be overheard on the phone: “Why aren’t you crying? Why aren’t you reacting?”

Her response, according to Stoddard: “I must be in shock.”

Then there was her eulogy at Cooper’s funeral last Saturday in Tuscaloosa. To those who don’t know her, Leanna Harris’ comment that she wouldn’t bring her son back, even if she could, seemed suspicious.

>> RELATED: Police: Father who left child in hot car charged with murder

“He’s in the most peaceful, wonderful place there is,” Leanna Harris said.

But the 250 or so mourners who gathered at University Church of Christ gave her two rounds of applause, and Harris’ statement is not unusual among the deeply religious who believe the afterlife is God’s greatest gift.

Still, it’s clear, according to veteran legal observers, that police are looking at Leanna Harris’ potential culpability in her son’s death. On Thursday, Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said the investigation continues and “much work remains,” though he offered no details on where the probe may be headed.

“Knowledge of a crime isn’t prosecutable. A cover-up is,” Panitch said.

But if, as many increasingly believe, her husband ends up facing more significant murder charges, prosecutors may seek to use Leanna Harris as a witness. In Georgia, the spousal privilege shielding a wife from testifying against her husband, and vice-versa, doesn’t apply in cases of domestic violence or death of a child.

>> RELATED: 'I’ve killed our child,' dad screams over tiny body

“She needs to make a deal before the state finds more evidence against her,” Panitch said.

So far, Leanna Harris has remained loyal to her husband of seven years. At Cooper’s funeral, she said she holds no anger toward her husband.

“Ross is and was a wonderful father,” she said. As Ross Harris listened from jail on speaker phone, his wife told him, “I love you and I’m doing this for you.”

It’s unclear whether Leanna Harris knew then of her spouse’s “sexting” habits, first disclosed publicly during Thursday’s hearing. Friends and family shielded her from reporters as she left the courtroom and insist she’s a woman of strong faith who treasured her role as wife and mother. Ross Harris’ half-brother, Randy Michael Baygents, a police officer for nearly two decades, said Thursday had Ross Harris been released on bond he would have returned home.

“What you saw here is what is truly in her,” the Harris’ pastor, David Eldridge, said at Cooper’s funeral. “There is an example here for all of us on how to deal with things.”

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Her eulogy was part memorial, part confessional.

“Some of you might wonder how I’m standing here today and I ask myself the same question,” Leanna Harris said. “I should be crumpled into a pile of tears and snot on the ground. (The Lord) is standing behind me, holding me up.”

She spoke of her difficulties getting pregnant and her awkward teen years.

“Junior high and senior high — they weren’t the happiest times (for me),” she said, listing heartbreaks her son would be spared. “He won’t have to suffer through the death of his (grandparents). He won’t have to suffer through the death of me and Ross.”

In his closing prayer, Eldridge said, “I’m not sure there’s a better testimony to who You are or what You do than Leanna.”

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Spring 2018: What’s the difference between meteorological spring and astronomical spring?

Published: Friday, March 02, 2018 @ 11:51 AM

Meteorological Spring and Astronomical Spring – What’s the Difference?

Thursday, March 1, marked the first day of meteorological spring. Astronomical spring, on the other hand, won’t begin for another few weeks.

Confused? You’re not alone.

Here are some things to know about the two seasons:

What’s the difference?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meteorologists follow the meteorological seasons based on the annual temperature cycle, whereas climatologists follow astronomical seasons, which are defined by the Earth’s position in relation to the sun.

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What are solstices and equinoxes?

Astronomical seasons are defined with two solstices and two equinoxes.

According to the National Weather Service, the summer solstice occurs the moment the earth’s tilt toward the sun is at a maximum and when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer. The sun is at its highest point in the sky anywhere north of the Tropic of Cancer. This is the longest day of the year in those areas.

The winter solstice occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn and marks the shortest day and longest night of the year.

Equinoxes, on the other hand, are times of the year when the earth’s axis is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun. On these days, there’s almost an equal amount of daylight and darkness at all latitudes. But days are a little longer at the higher latitudes.

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Approximately when do the solstices and equinoxes occur in the northern hemisphere?

Summer solstice: June 21

Winter solstice: Dec. 22

Vernal/spring equinox: March 21

Autumnal equinox: Sept. 22

When does astronomical spring begin?

Astronomical spring begins on the vernal or spring equinox, around March 21. 

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Which do we typically use to define seasons?

While people have long used the sun’s alignment and other natural phenomena to mark time, meteorological seasons are more closely tied to our calendar than the astronomical seasons. For example, meteorological spring includes March, April and May. Summer includes June, July and August. Fall includes September, October and November. And lastly, winter includes December, January and February.

Meteorological seasons are also more consistent compared to astronomical seasons.

Why do we typically use meteorological seasons for our civil calendars?

The exact dates of the solstices and equinoxes can vary between 89-93 days due to the earth’s elliptical orbit and whether or not it’s a Leap Year.

Due to the consistency of meteorological seasons (each season is roughly 90-92 days long), calculating seasonal statistics from monthly numbers is much easier. According to NOAA, this data is often used to understand trends in agriculture, commerce and more.

Learn more about the seasons at

FILE PHOTO: Working Sheep Dog, Twig, performs tricks for photographers amongst the spring daffodils.(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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Keyless ignitions may be contributing to deaths across the United States

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 11:34 PM

(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

Constance Petot didn't think twice about the push button starter on her car until it almost killed her and her toddler last Valentine's Day.

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"He just went completely limp in my arms. It's the most terrifying moment in my entire life," said Petot.

The busy mom was ending her work day with a conference call as she was pulling into the garage of her parents' Florida home, where she was staying.

"As I came in I wanted the garage door to be closed when the conference call started so I went ahead and pushed the button to close the door," Petot said. "And I think in my head I just told myself I had pushed this button instead of that button."

The mistake sent carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas, flooding through their home as she got 13-month-old Parker ready for bed.

The car was still on after Petot left the garage.

"My son woke up around 12:30 a.m. and was screaming," Petot recalls.

She got out of bed to pick him up.

Petot thinks her son, Parker, may have had a headache because she now knows the level of carbon monoxide at the time was high enough to have killed them within about 20 minutes.

"Once I got dizzy, I knew I needed to get out of there," Petot said. "And walked down the stairs, opened the garage door and saw that the taillight was on."

A WSB-TV investigation has tracked more than two dozen injuries and deaths around the country connected to cars with keyless ignitions being left on, with families left wondering how this could happen.

Cars with keyless ignition have no key and are designed to start with the push of a button. But it is also easier to forget to turn off the car.

The family of Bill Thomason and Eugenia (Woo) Thomason say the couple likely never realized their mistake. Their Toyota Avalon ran inside their closed garage for 32 hours as they slept.

"We know that they went to bed that night and didn't wake up the next morning," said Will Thomason, who now lives in Atlanta.

His brother Dave Thomason also lives in the metro area, and they both rushed to Greenville, South Carolina, to get to their parents, but it was too late.

"By the time they were found they were essentially brain dead," said Will Thomason. "You can't prepare for something like this."

The sons say the active retirees had just renewed their wedding vows after 50 years and adored their five grandchildren, who they won't get to see grow up.

"Oh, it's been just absolutely terrible," said Dave Thomason. "We all know that people can get killed in car accidents due to different things, but a car sitting alone, basically doing nothing but running?"

The brothers said their pain is worsened by the number of times they've now heard the same story, with reported deaths and injuries connected to running cars around the country.

The Thomason family has filed a lawsuit against Toyota, which has already settled with several of the other families.

"Hell yeah, that makes me angry. I mean, we've lost our parents," said Will Thomason.

"Nobody is in the car, it's been running for however long. The car should have an automatic cutoff. I mean, to me that's a very easy fix," said Dave Thomason.

Records show since 2011 the federal government has been studying the need for an external alert to be placed on cars that have button ignitions, but has yet to require car companies to do anything to include an external alert.

"There's probably 25 other things that car makers do ... for safety. Well, this is a life and death safety thing and it seems to me that this is an easy thing for them to address, and they aren't addressing it," Will Thomason said.

WSB-TV tested more than a dozen of the most popular cars to see what happens when you leave them running and walk away with the key fob.

Most of the cars had a dashboard display that notes that the key fob has left the vehicle. Some even emit a low interior sound, similar to the one that reminds drivers to fasten their seat belts. 

However, if a driver has left the vehicle, he or she wouldn't see that display or hear that warning. Very few of the cars made an exterior noise.

The loudest warning came from the Chevy Impala, which utilizes the car's horn.

Petot didn't hear the three low beeps her car made and she's lived with the guilt ever since.

"I absolutely take responsibility for what happened," she said. "And I think that it could happen to anybody."

But she said the price for being distracted or forgetful should not be death.

"We were incredibly lucky. We absolutely wouldn't be here," Petot said while watching Parker play in their new Marietta home. "He is definitely my little hero Valentine."

Petot said the day they moved in to their new home she purchased carbon monoxide detectors for each of the rooms.

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Red Ink Rising – National debt goes over $21 trillion

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 8:44 PM

A week after the feds announced the largest budget deficit in February in six years, the national debt edged over $21 trillion for the first time ever on Monday, as budget experts argue the U.S. is on a track that will likely again feature yearly deficits of $1 trillion, a level reached only during the Obama Administration.

“This is unsustainable,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).

The $21 trillion debt milestone was hit as lawmakers in Congress were trying to place the finishing touches on a giant Omnibus funding bill which will increase deficits by well over $100 billion in 2018, because of extra spending approved for both domestic and defense accounts.

Even before that, budget watchdogs were warning of a new tide of red ink in the Trump Administration.

“Thanks to the recent budget-busting tax cuts and spending deal, the national debt is skyrocketing and on an unsustainable course,” said Maya MacGuineas, head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The February budget numbers had two main reasons why the monthly deficit jumped to $215 billion – up from $192 billion in 2017 – less revenue coming in to Uncle Sam, and more spending.

Tax revenues were $155 billion in February, down from $171 billion a year ago.

While deficits are heading back up, there’s no hint of action in the Congress on any plan to restrain spending, though only a handful GOP lawmakers publicly grumbled about the situation, as they waited to see what exactly was in the Omnibus.

But the Omnibus has become almost a normal spending tool for Congress, unable to get through the dozen yearly spending bills on time.

For the current 2018 Fiscal Year, lawmakers were supposed to have finished 12 funding measures by October 1 of last year – but that spending work has only been completed on time in four of the last 43 years – one reason there are calls to overhaul the system.

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Confessed Parkland school shooter’s brother arrested for allegedly trespassing at Stoneman Douglas

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 8:40 PM

West Boca High School students walked to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl., February 20, 2018. 
Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post
West Boca High School students walked to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl., February 20, 2018. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

The brother of confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz was arrested Monday afternoon for trespassing on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas campus in Parkland, according to the Broward County Sheriff’ Office. 

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Zachary Cruz, 18, told deputies he went to the campus to “reflect on the school shooting and soak it in,” according to the arrest report. 

The sheriff’s office said he rode his skateboard through the campus, passing all locked doors and gates. Deputies said he was previously warned by school officials to stay away from the campus. 

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The sheriff’s office said Zachary Cruz has no connections to Broward County at this time. Before the shootings, he lived with his brother and family friend, Rocxanne Deschamps, in a Lantana-area mobile home. 

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Nikolas Cruz, 19, is charged in a 34-count indictment with killing 17 people and wounding 17 others. He is being held without bail at the Broward County Jail after the Feb. 14 school shooting that left 14 students and three adults dead. 

After the fatal shootings, Zachary Cruz was put under a mental-health evaluation. He told investigators that as he drove home with Deschamps after he heard about the shootings he said, "I don't want to be alive. I don't want to deal with this stuff."

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He has denied wanting either to kill or harm himself. 

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