The Palm Coast Fire Department frequently schedules open invitations to parents and guardians to bring their vehicles so car seats for young children are properly secured. Even without those sessions, firefighters in any county or city’s station usually welcome drop-ins who need that same service.
Had Mercedes McCaster done so, she might have avoided a trip to the Flagler County jail Thursday on a felony charge of child neglect after a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy discovered two of her four young children, the youngest just 13 days old, in unsecured child seats that swayed left and right as the car negotiated curves down Belle Terre Parkway. A 3-year-old boy was between the car seats, without a booster or a car seat of his own, and without a seat belt on.
Deputy Phil Conway was on patrol on Belle Terre when he observed McCaster, 29, allegedly speeding south at the wheel of her Nissan, and not wearing a seat belt. He pulled her over on Point Pleasant Drive. As McCaster took the turn, Conway observed two car seats in the back sway left, then back to the right. Approaching the Nissan, the deputy saw the seat on the left passenger side without a base. A 1-year-old infant was in the car seat facing forward. The chest piece was strapped. The bottom strap was not buckled, and the car seat itself was not secured to the passenger seat.
In the other car seat the deputy observed a newborn, who would prove to be less than two weeks old. That seat was also without a base. The newborn was facing forward, secured to the seat with a chest strap that was around the newborn’s neck. There were no thigh straps. “The car seat was not secured to the seat or anything within the vehicle,” the deputy reported.
McCaster, waiving her Miranda rights, spoke to Conway, telling him that she’d been visiting her sister locally and was driving home to Orlando on I-95 and I-4, “which are routes she previously drove with her children in the same dangerous manner,” Conway reported, who wrote that the “careless driving of the mother” endangered the children, “and their safety was of no concern” to their mother. McCaster allegedly told Conway that she’d made no attempt to locate the base of the car seats or to try to have them properly installed, and so has been driving that way routinely.
There were four children in the car in all: a 12-year-old girl, a 3-year-old girl, a 1-year-old boy, and the 13-day-old infant, a girl. Their mother was handcuffed at the scene and the Department of Children and Families contacted. DCF reported to the sheriff’s office that it has an open case of its own regarding McCaster. The children were released to her sister, who lives in Palm Coast’s P Section, where DCF was to check on the children’s well-being.
McCaster herself was booked at the Flagler County jail on a felony charge of child neglect without great bodily harm, and issued a $166 citation for the unsecured child seats. She posted bail on $2,500 bond three hours after being booked in.
The dangers of improperly strapped in children is not minor: In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control reports, 723 children ages 12 or younger were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, and 128,000 were injured. Of those killed, 35 percent were not properly secured. The CDC found that in a given year, 618,000 children in that age group rode in vehicles “rode in vehicles without the use of a child safety seat or booster seat or a seat belt at least some of the time.” Almost 40 percent of children riding with drivers who did not strap themselves in were themselves left unsecured.
Proportions of those not wearing seat belts or properly securing children are more alarming in black families, according to a 2017 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s survey: overall, the survey found, “non-Hispanic Asian children from 4 to 7 years old had the highest restraint use (99.8%) while Non-Hispanic Black children 4 to 7 years old had the lowest (75.8%).” Blacks were found consistently to secure children at the lowest rates when compared to other groups, across all children’s age groups.
Yet car seats (as opposed to seat belt use alone) reduce the risk of injury by 71 to 82 percent, according to the CDC, which emphasizes through various means the critical importance of safely securing children in vehicles–and ensuring that adults wear seat belts as well.
There’s another problem, which makes it essential to visit a firehouse to ensure that car seats are properly installed: the CDC found that 59 percent of car seats and 20 percent of booster seats are misused in a way that could reduce their effectiveness.
The CDC outlines recommended uses of car seats here. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has an easy-to-read primer and how-to on car seats here.
American Academy of Pediatrics: Child Passenger Safety
Ignorance is bliss to some
I hope that this arrest, while terrible for the family in many ways, will lead to the mother getting some much needed counseling and assistance, with her children being more properly cared for and supervised as a result.
Mother of the year
Concerned Citizen says
Please stop leaving your children in the car. How many times have we seen children die from it? I don’t care if it’s inconvienient. I don’t care if it’s just 5 minutes. Get those precious children out and take them in with you. Supervise them like you’re supposed to.
Likewise goes for you. Stop leaving your pets in a hot car. That pet of yours is far more comfortable and happier being left at home while you run errands. How would you like to be left alone in a hot vehicle?
Studies have shown that even on a mild day when it’s 75 to 80 degrees the internal temperature in your car can climb more than 10 to 15 degrees higher than the outside temp. And cracking those windows don’t help !!
One of my major pet peeves is seeing unattended children/pets in cars. I’m that type of person that will call 911 on you and have a Deputy waiting when you return. Just don’t do it!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwEg1RoULBw Veterenarian locks himself in car with thermometer
jonathan rockford says
Did I read that correctly? If an African-American get’s pulled over for a traffic violation with a child under 7 in the car, 3 out of 4 times the child will not be properly restrained? Is that a large enough percentage to actually profile black drivers? I’ve never heard that statistic before.
Go figure ! Typical !
Rick Nieves says
Concerned citizen, this article has absolutely nothing to do with your long rant of something unrelated.
Toni B says
Great PSA Conerned Citizen, did you read the article? They were unsecured not unattended. My concern is that DCF gave the kids to her sister who she had just come from visiting. If the mother always drove with the kids unsecured there is no way her sister didn’t know or observe that. She didn’t intervene. Doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of the children either.
Where to start. … 1st while I commend the Deputy for doing their job. Stopping the car for “speeding”. I personally believe the seat belt should be up to the adult, if they chose to wear one, but definately a must for children. The seat belt is kinda like forcing people to buy/have medical insurance or fining them for not…. Govt over-reach. I applaud the citation (should be one citation per violation) for each child not being properly restrained. !!!HOWEVER!!!….. To arrest someone and charge them with felonies for this is ridiculous and ludicrous. This DUMBASS COP better have also arrested her for reckless driving or at least given a ticket for careless driving, for …. How dangerous she was driving/attempting to harm her kids…. This is a OVER STOMP of Government control and power!
2nd I’d like to address the cop calling concerned citizen. Some “dogs” (they can be a number of different kinds of animals) are working/service dogs/animal. They belong in the vehicle or with the owner. Animals/Dogs are for WORK AND FOOD! Not every DOG is a PET. PETS are for rich people, who have to much money and are lonely! I have a dog. She works with me. Goes everywhere with me. I am not going to drive out of my way to take her to my house and drop her off, to go shopping.
My point is simple…. Not every Dog/Animal is a pet, so if windows are down and there is water and shade…., shut 🆙 and Mind Your Own Business! Its really that simple and easy!
Where is the father/husband?
I’m betting she didn’t forget her phone…….
Trailer Bob says
Flagler1, Good question.
hey HonkeyDude….. smh
john hancock says
i worked in a major automotive repair shop for years in pc-the statistics are correct that most unsecured kids in cars are belonging to black parents/fatherless children with careless mothers-care were always dirty and smelly-smelled like pot and sometimes parents are smoking pot with kids in the car…..usually they were from bunnell.
i have called 911 before on customers as they left-such a disgrace
B. Hunter says
I’m sure we, the taxpayers, are paying for those four kids, so yes, IT IS OUR BUSINESS, INCLUDING THE OFFICERS BUSINESS.
Also, when it’s statistics it’s not racial profiling. Change the expected behaviors and you would be profiled or vilified. That simple. They needed to hand her some condoms along with the citation.