In September 2018, 2 year old Jaxon Stults climbed into her mother’s car, became trapped, and died from exposure to extreme heat there. His mother was inside and napping, drunk from a serious drinking binge. This week, his mother, 30 year old Britni Wihebrink, pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent resulting in death. The court will sentence her on July 1.
Wihebrink told an investigator she woke up with a hangover, began drinking about 11 am and had two wine coolers and three or four bourbon drinks, and possibly more, before taking a nap about 1 or 2 pm, according to a probable cause affidavit for the case. According to court documents, Wihebrink said she started drinking to help her hangover from the night before, and she did not remember a lot of the events that occurred that day. Police found seven empty Jim Beam 50 mL bottles in the house.
While Wirebrink was passed out, the boy apparently left the apartment they were living in, climbed into the car, and never left it on the sunny, 90 degree day.
Her friend’s 15-year-old son found Jaxon lying on the back floorboard of the car. Her friend picked the child up and brought him inside. Wihebrink called 911, and she told dispatch someone was performing CPR on her son, but he was starting to turn blue. When Wihebrink was asked how long her son had been in the car during the 911 call, she explained: ‘I have no idea. We took a nap… We woke up and he was in there.’
First responders tried to resuscitate Stults but he was declared dead while an ambulance rushed him to the local hospital.
Britni Wihebrink was charged with Level 1 felony neglect of a dependent and Level 6 obstruction of justice for the death of her son. As part of her plea agreement, Wihebrink will plead guilty to Level 1 felony neglect and the state will dismiss the Level 6 felony obstruction of justice charge made against her.
“The parties have no agreement as to a sentencing recommendation,” according to the plea agreement filed with the courts. “The sentence will be left to the discretion of the Court with the exception that any sentence imposed on Count 1 shall not exceed 30 years.”
Authorities are hoping awareness of this case will help prevent other hot car deaths this summer. On average, a child dies in the United States every 8 days from being left behind in a hot car.
According to NoHeatstroke.Org, the majority of hot car deaths, amounting to 54% of them, happen because someone forgets a child in a car. About 46% of the time a child was forgotten, the caregiver had planned to drop the child off at a care facility such as a daycare or preschool. Almost 75% of all children who are forgotten and die are under 2 years old.
Heatstroke occurs when a person’s temperature exceeds 104 degrees F. At that point, the ability for a human to regulate their temperature and bodily functions fails. At first, symptoms of heatstroke include dizziness, disorientation, confusion, sluggishness, loss of consciousness, and rapid heartbeat. Once the body temperature climbs to 107 degrees or greater, internal organs begin to shut down and human cells are damaged. It is at this point death can quickly occur. This is especially true in children; small bodies can’t regulate body temperatures as efficiently as an adult’s; as such, a child’s body can warm 2-3 times faster than that of an adult.
Automobiles can become deadly ovens in the summer. When the outside temperature is only 70, the temperature inside a vehicle can climb to 113 degrees in an hour. On a 95 degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can warm to 138 degrees in an hour.
Authorities warn drivers to never leave a child in an unattended car, even with the windows down. Drivers should make it a habit to open the rear door of the car every time they park to ensure no one is left inside. Children have also been known to sneak into cars on their own, becoming trapped and dying as a result. To prevent that, authorities recommend that people keep their vehicle locked at all times, even when it is inside a garage. Authorities also recommend that keys never be left within reach of children. If a child is ever missing, people should immediately check the inside, floorboards, and trunk of all vehicles in the area.