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Wrong turn led to toddler's tragic death

Noah Zunde may have died as a result of ‘forgotten baby syndrome’. Picture: Seven News
Noah Zunde may have died as a result of ‘forgotten baby syndrome’. Picture: Seven News

IT started like any normal day for busy mother Romy Zunde.

She dropped her 22-month-old son Noah at child care before returning home. As the afternoon rolled around, it was time to return to the child care centre in Kyneton, about an hour from Melbourne, to pick Noah up.

But when she arrived he wasn't there. He had never been dropped off. In a panic, the mother ran back to her car and ripped open the back door, only to find Noah still in the car seat. He had been strapped in the back of the Toyota Hilux all day in 31C heat and was no longer breathing.

On Wednesday, an inquest into the toddler's death, which occurred in February 2015, will look at the possible physiological reasons behind someone inadvertently leaving a child in a car.

Noah had been in the car for seven hours when Romy realised her terrible mistake.

The inquest at the Victorian Coroner's Court will look at opportunities to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.

At least five children have died in Victoria after being left in motor vehicles in the past decade, according to coronial records.

Monash University associate professor in psychology, Matthew Mundy, will be the only witness called to give evidence on Wednesday.

He has provided the coroner with two expert reports about the potential role that physiology and cognitive neuroscience of the human memory system may have played in the lead-up to children being unintentionally left in cars.

Dr Mundy said evidence suggests Noah's mother was severely sleep-deprived and affected by other factors, which contributed to a memory failure sometimes referred to as "forgotten baby syndrome".

Noah's mother was confused when her son wasn't at the child care centre when she went to pick him up.

A child care worker later said: "I am 100 per cent (sure) she believed she had dropped him off that morning."

Dr Mundy said the belief she had dropped off her son appears to be a case of false memory whereby an older long-term memory of a previous daycare drop-off had "filled in the blank".

In a heartbreaking tribute to Noah, his father Andrew Krespanis told parents to hug their children and "never let them go".

"We lost our beautiful son today," he posted on Twitter after the tragic death.

"I love him more every day. Forever. I'll always know I cherished every day. Every laugh, every adventure, every cuddle. Miss you Noey X,"

The Herald Sun reported at the time Noah's mother was too devastated to talk to police for several days.

"As you can imagine the family of this young boy are devastated by what has occurred so it's been difficult for us to try and piece together exactly what has occurred, but that's something that will be the focus of our major ongoing investigation," Homicide Squad Detective Senior Sergeant Shane O'Connell said.

"The mother was present when the young boy was located and she's absolutely devastated by what has occurred. It's a very tragic set of circumstances."

Before Noah's death his parents moved to a farm in Kyneton to raise the toddler and their other primary school-aged child.

On the morning of February 19, 2015, Ms Zunde dropped her older child off at school and thought she then dropped Noah off at daycare.

In a statement to police, Ms Zunde said the centre was very close to the family home.

"A left turn directly opposite the right turn to our house. I can only assume I automatically made a right turn instead of a left," she said.

Noah Zunde died in a car in Kyneton.
Noah Zunde died in a car in Kyneton.

She also believes Noah must have fallen asleep in the car, meaning he was quiet in the back seat.

"He was probably asleep in the car which is something he hardly ever did," she said.

Forgotten baby syndrome is commonly caused by busy schedules and exhaustion.

The Bendigo Advertiser reports the night before Noah died, he had teething issues and slept in Ms Zunde's bed and she was also recovering from a bad case of gastro.

During the morning drop-off, she was also stressed as she had to run down to Kyneton train station to give her partner, Mr Krespanis, a Myki card, which made her fret her daughter would be late for school.

Forgotten baby syndrome happens across all types of socio-economic backgrounds and affects both mothers and fathers all over the world.

In Iowa, in the United States, Kari Engholm, a hospital CEO, was described as a "loving mother" by her husband despite accidentally leaving her seven-month old daughter in a mini-van to attend meetings.

Enelgholm left her daughter Clare in the van while temperatures reached over 32 degrees; she had forgotten to drop her off at the babysitter.

A county medical examiner in Iowa ruled the death accidental, and authorities are still deciding whether to file charges, ABC News reports.

Last year six-month-old Dillon Martinez died after he was left in a hot car for nearly nine hours in a Texas Wal-Mart car park.

The baby's father told authorities he had forgotten to take his son to daycare, reported NBC News.

In February, one-year-old Samual Schnall died after he was left inside a Toyota Camry for an hour in temperatures reaching more than 27 degrees in the affluent suburb of Pinecrest, Florida. A family member, who wasn't identified, left the child in the car after arriving home from a day of activities.

"This is a horrific situation for the family members involved, for the parents of this child, as well as the police department and the officers who found the child," Miami-Dade Police Detective Jennifer Capote at the time.

- with AAP

News Corp Australia

Topics:  editors picks inquest romy zunde


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