Electric Scooter

Don't Blame Bad Parenting for the Death of 6-Year-Old Carla Neems

The coroner's declaration is a cruel twist of the knife.

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Carla Neems, a month shy of turning seven, was scootering home from school when she was hit by a garbage truck and killed.

A two-year inquest was held. Last week, the coroner, Tim Scott, finally issued his report. He blamed the parents, saying it was "unacceptable" that the girl was allowed to get home without them—because every heart-wrenching child tragedy, no matter how unpredictable or rare, must be deemed the fault of a bad mom or dad.

So here's the story. It took place in New Zealand. Carla was coming home from school, which is about half a mile from her home. She had done this daily with her sisters, who are eight and ten, for a year. On May 2, 2017, she was with an older friend until the very last bit of the trip, which she made by herself. When she scootered in front of the truck, less than a block from her home, the driver didn't see her. He has been acquitted of reckless driving.

The parents are not getting off that easy.

Coroner Scott declared, "I do not accept that it was acceptable for Carla to go to and from school in the care of her older siblings—and part of the way home alone. The siblings were too young to be vested with that responsibility. Sadly the confidence that Mr. and Mrs. Neems had about Carla's road safety was misplaced and flies in the face of what happened."

The problem is this: In the wake of any tragedy, it's easy to say, "If only X hadn't happened, we wouldn't be mourning today." That can make it feel as if  "X" is so inherently and (in retrospect) inevitably dangerous that it should never be allowed. When the coroner says the parents' trust in Carla "flies in the face of what happened," he is saying they should have known this was going to happen.

This is a cruel twist of the knife. It is also wrong. If a child falls down the stairs and dies, does that "fly in the face" of parents who thought it was okay to raise kids in two-story houses? Would the coroner call them reckless? If a child slips in the tub, does that "fly in the face" of parents stupid enough to believe it was okay for their child to take a bath?

There is no such thing as a completely risk-free life. It is unfair and cruel to blame parents for trusting the odds—for not living every second as if an anvil was about to fall on their heads.

And yet the news site Stuff has praised the coroner's declaration, saying it will save lives:

Maybe Scott could have found more compassionate words to comfort a grieving family; maybe he felt a need to draw a line in so much unnecessary death and shock people out of their complacency.

Who is complacent when it comes to the death of a child? In fact, we are so completely shaken by this development that we have to immediately turn it into a lesson so that we don't have to stare into the abyss that is cruel fate. And that is exactly how the Stuff editorial proceeds: "Carla's death is not meaningless; it has inspired an honest assessment of risk that will hopefully save many lives."

In one sense—the design of garbage trucks—that may be true. Assessors came to realize the trucks have a blind spot and have since worked to eradicate it. They've also made the trucks even more visible. This is great news. But a coroner stating that children should not be allowed to venture outside on their own until age eight or nine, even when parents believe they should be allowed to do so, is alarming. It's a hallmark of paranoia, not prudence.

At Let Grow, we believe in teaching kids to take care on the streets, to stop, look, and listen, and to check both ways. We also love reflectors, and lights and bells on bikes. But when it comes to blame, we believe in mourning with the Neems, rather than cruelly pretending this was their fault.

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  1. A coroner’s job is to determine cause of death. In cases where foul play is suspected, the job might also include establishing time of death, signs of a struggle, etc. What is NOT a coroner’s responsibility is to harass grief-stricken people. This man needs to be fired. Period.

    1. This was my take away as well. A coroner’s opinion is supposed to be a scientific assessment. His comments in this case are not scientific. Plus, nobody is soliciting parenting advice from the creep that spends all day every day with dead bodies.

      1. The coroner would have had a coronary if he’d been around to observe the “dangerous” travels I undertook to get to/from school.
        In second grade, I routinely walked the ~mile each way to the school. By fourth grade, the distance was up to a couple miles – but it was through the middle of a major city just 50 miles from active military conflict. Sometimes my brothers (the youngest in first grade) and I would pay for a bus ticket and ride the Benz buses which were frequently overloaded to the point of people (sometimes us) would hold onto the boarding rails, stand on the entrance steps and actually hang out of the side of the buses as they moved through traffic.
        Of course, I died many times.

    2. What is NOT a coroner’s responsibility is to harass grief-stricken people.

      Slight disagreement. NZ has had significant problems with child abuse in recent history and it seems exceedingly likely that somewhere in NZ is a 7 yr. old girl who probably receives a beating from her parents every week or so. When *that* girl gets hit and killed by a garbage truck, the coroner should be sounding the alarm bells. Until then, he needs to be routinely exposed to ravenous wolves so that he learns not to cry wolf when there are no actual wolves.

    3. I had that thought too. WTF is a coroner doing making such pronouncements?

    4. Actually, he should be put on a scooter and run over by a garbage truck.

  2. “If only X hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be mourning today.”

    “If only you people had not procreated, we wouldn’t be mourning today. Come to think of it, I blame *your* parents for the death of this innocent child.”

  3. You may think this is an over-reaction to a one-off tragedy, but the thousands of children run over by garbage trucks every single day in this country need a strong advocate in the form of this coroner who is willing to speak up on behalf of the dead. Won’t somebody think of the children?

    1. Does NZ even have more than a thousand kids?

      1. I’m sure it does, but does it have 1,000 garbage trucks?

        No, it was not the coroner’s place to make the comments that he did. There’s nothing wrong with the kids coming home by themselves. But using scooters to do it? Those things are dangerous, precisely because they are subject to this kind of accident. When I was a kid, my mother used to warn me to stay away from them. I had a bicycle, but never a scooter. (Scooters were a bit larger in those days than they are today, and for some reason were always painted a certain shade of light red or dark pink, rather than being bare metal like today’s scooters. But otherwise, they were basically the same.) They should probably only be used on park bicycle paths, not in the street.

        1. So you’re saying that any vehicle more dangerous than the least dangerous shouldn’t be used? They’re all dangerous to some extent. And they all have cost/benefit trade-offs.

        2. That’s as much horse shit as the coroner’s conclusion.

      2. If we’re talking about goats, then yes, yes they do.

    2. I’m thinking of flies in the face.

      And I don’t like it.

  4. All I can think of is that I’m glad they didn’t have such idiots running things back when I was a child, or my parents would have spent a lot of time explaining why they let their 7-year-old walk a mile to and from school by myself.

    1. Yeah I did that and it wasn’t too long ago (early 90s). I was even working on construction by the age of 13, digging ditches. You know what, I was never was injured beyond what a little duct tape couldn’t fix and it taught me invaluable life lessons.

  5. Bureaucratic functionaries, like coroners, should never opine outside their rubric and society should certainly not indulge them if and when they do. Back to your cold amine-smelling cubicle, you creep.

  6. There is no such thing as a completely risk-free life. It is unfair and cruel to blame parents for trusting the odds—for not living every second as if an anvil was about to fall on their heads.

    And yet that anvil did fall on their heads, in the form of a coroner’s report.

  7. Are coroner’s in NZ elected public offices, filled by appointment, or a layer cake of the two?

    I certainly dislike this sort of non-empirical activism out of a coroner, however, it could be the result of a more systemic issue. Plenty of cover ups in this country have been exposed by coroners who are neither elected official nor pensioned and union shielded police officers.

    It doesn’t make much sense to say, after the driver has been exonerated of reckless driving, that someone is guilty of pretty much anything but, somewhat recently, a local coroner came out and publicly stated that an officer died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the middle of a regional manhunt.

    It certainly seems like the guy is just moralizing well outside of his lane.

    1. ” Plenty of cover ups in this country have been exposed by coroners who are neither elected official nor pensioned and union shielded police officers.”

      Actually, coroners in the US are nearly universally elected, in the states that still use them. And they generally have neither medical nor pathology training.

      You are thinking of forensic medical examiners, not the same as a coroner at all.

      COMPARING MEDICAL EXAMINER AND CORONER SYSTEMS

      1. Yup. My stepfather, a bus driver, ran for coroner in New York State when I was a teenager. He lost by less than 100 votes to a guy who wasn’t a doctor either.

      2. Actually, coroners in the US are nearly universally elected, in the states that still use them. And they generally have neither medical nor pathology training.

        You are thinking of forensic medical examiners, not the same as a coroner at all.

        Thanks for clarifying my admitted lack of clarity or understanding. Do you suppose the term ‘coroner’ in the article follows the distinction?

  8. If you hang out near garbage trucks you can get a fly in your face.

  9. Are we not all ultimately guilty for living material lives, that produce garbage, that requires collection, that justifies a service, that deploys trucks?

  10. Root cause:
    The government did not choose to collect garbage by pedestrian transport, resulting in the inevitable display of physics, and the brutality of mass X velocity = Dead kids.
    So every government official, and the heirs and assigns of all dead government officials, since the adoption of trucks to collect and/or transport garbage, is guilty of this death, and should be fined and imprisoned.
    Think of how much safer it would be to dispatch pedestrians, at $15.00/hr of more, to collect from each residence or business, and walk the garbage back to the collection point.
    It is for the children.

  11. Just recently in the news a woman and her child were run over and killed. Children lose their lives in car accidents with their parents driving too. The assumption that “If only the parents had been there…” would have been enough to keep a child safe is ridiculous. Mom and Dad are not accident-proof shields that keep children safe.

    In just the last week, there have been multiple adult deaths by freak accidents, and that is what we call them, accidents. Why does the public want to assign blame in accidental child deaths?

    1. The public doesn’t.
      The socialists do, so they can expand their control over more and more of an individual’s life.

    2. In just the last week, there have been multiple adult deaths by freak accidents, and that is what we call them, accidents.

      Were their parents present? QED.

  12. It is unfair and cruel to blame parents for trusting the odds—for not living every second as if an anvil was about to fall on their heads.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance!

  13. When I was a kid, my elementary school let the littlest ones (kindergarten through 3rd graders) out 15 minutes earlier than the rest (I assume so they could walk home without being hassled by the bigger kids). This meant that a couple hundred kids aged 5-8 were walking home several blocks by themselves! With only 11-12 year-olds standing at corners helping them cross the streets. Of course, we lost several unfortunate little buggers every year to a stray garbage truck or what have you, but that’s just the way things were back then.

  14. Thanks Lenore. Just for context and clarification, might that by any chance have been a government monopoly garbage truck? And were the garbage monopoly paychecks and the Coroner’s monopoly paychecks also issued by the government that blamed the parents?

  15. There’s not enough info in this story for Lenore to make this assertion. she makes it seem as if the coroner is simply making his declaration out of the blue – when in fact the parents lawyer spent the first day of the inquest still trying to blame the garbage truck driver.

    Sorry – but once you yourself start playing the lawyer games, you don’t get some automatic immunity as a grieving parent to be immune from criticism yourself

  16. I had a little brother which I was about 4 years his senior. We lived way out in the back woods in an unimproved house. No running water nor electric nor indoor plumbing. We also had hundreds of acres of trees and creeks to play in. There was a lot of dangers there also, snakes, spiders and danger of falling out of a tree. We survived there in spite of the danger mostly because even at that young age we had to be responsible to survive. We also did not have the distraction of electronics to contend with. But as poor as we were it took all mom and dad could do to provide for us so we learned to recognize danger and stay from it. I know from experience even the young can learn what danger is and avoid it if they are taught. But if the parents don’t allow the child to be exposed to these danger they will never learn and the adults around the child don’t look out for them also to give them a chance to learn.

  17. Little Carla should have been carried piggyback by her parents to and from school from the time she was in kindergarten to the time she graduated from high school, and the parents should be held accountable for her tragic death.
    Additionally, just to be on the safe side, the parents should have done all her homework, changed her diaper up to the age of 18, dated prospective boyfriends, ate her food, drank her liquids, gave her manicures and pedicures, read all her mail, etc.
    This is the only way to keep kids safe, and this idea should’ve already be in place, especially in a forward-thinking and progressive society like New Zealand where all the cute little kiwis live.

  18. Be careful, Uncle Jay. When the next cute little kiwi gets hit by a garbage truck, they will come for you.

  19. Yet you can’t deny that bad parenting was a factor in the child’s death. Seriously, what parents would allow a 6 year old to walk home alone part of the way? My parents drove me to and from school until I was like 14 and after that I would get rides from friends.

    This was a bad call on the parents… should they be blamed? No, but you can’t deny that they were a factor.

    1. I was walking the half mile to school when I was 8 years old.

      1. Starting at age 5 for me. Kindergarten through 12th, I was on my own to get to school. For all of K-6 I could climb over the 6 foot fence with sharp wires on top (standard chain link twisted tops that cut the unwary) or walk 1/4-1/2 mile around on the sidewalks.

      2. We used to dream of walking a half-mile to school. We had to walk 10 miles – to the mill – uphill both ways

  20. What on earth was that guys problem. Good Grief.

  21. The office of coroner should be eliminated.

    There is no way for a layman to even come close to what an expert in forensic pathology could reveal in autopsy and laboratory tests.

    What happened with this child I cannot judge. She was walking in her neighborhood and was hit by a truck.

    I generally disagree with this author and her agenda of free range parenting, as if children were chickens, yet this tragic occurrence seems an accident and nothing else.

    1. What’s really wrong with the phrase “free range children” is that it reminds us that some of us care more for chickens to have freedom, than we do for children to have children. (And I should add that free range chickens face their own risks: they are more susceptible to hawks, dogs and other critters.)

      The world has its dangers, but my wife and her cousin, both 7 years old, hiked up a mountain without adult supervision. The fact is, our children are more capable than we give them credit for, and we shouldn’t be forcing parents to coddle them.

  22. It was in NEW ZEALAND, for fuck’s sake.
    ‘Nuff said.

    1. NZ – where all deaths are preventable…seems to be the logical conclusion of most progs. I guess they can’t blame guns for this one, or garbage trucks (maybe because the government runs the trash collection service), so that leaves the parents

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