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3 years ago, their baby died in a hot car. Here's why they're speaking out

July 14, 2014 at 11:58 AM ET

Brett Cavaliero will never forget the moment he realized he had left his baby daughter in the back of a sweltering hot car for hours. Now he and his wife are working to make sure other parents never have to endure the same pain. 

On May 25, 2011, when Cavaliero took his 1-year-old daughter, Sophia Rayne, nicknamed "Ray Ray," to daycare, but forgot to drop her off. He went to work instead, leaving Sophia in his truck for nearly three hours. It was a 90-degree day. 

When his wife, Kristie, met him for lunch and asked why the teacher at daycare didn't mention the cute dress Sophia was wearing, it hit Brett that he had left her in the car. 

First responders tried for 40 minutes to save Sophia, but she died only 10 days after her first birthday. 

"We've really channeled our grief and our pain into what we hope will be a positive contribution by trying to prevent this tragedy from happening to other parents who are not aware that this is a danger that they could become susceptible to," Kristie told Willie Geist on TODAY Monday (they've previously spoken to Parents magazine).  

On June 18, 22-month-old Cooper Harris died after seven hours in a hot car, according to authorities. The boy's father, Ross Harris, has been charged with felony murder and second-degree child cruelty. Brett Cavaliero, who was cleared of any wrongdoing and is now a dad to 22-month-old twin daughters, hopes to help others avoid tragedy. 

How does this happen? "I ask myself that all the time,'' Brett said. "I don't have the answer to that, really." Dr. David Diamond, a psychologist and neuroscientist from the University of South Florida, believes following common patterns can cause parents to forget their child is in the car. 

  • "You find that the parent is following some well-travelled route,'' said Diamond. "When we do something out of habit, we activate a part of our brain called the basal ganglia, and the thing about the basal ganglia, it suppresses a part of the brain that is used to remind us that there's a child in the car. In Imaging studies, you actually see that when you're doing something out of habit, you actually forget things that you had learned recently."
  • "Although it sounds a bit insensitive to compare remembering a child to remembering groceries, it's very much analagous to the kind of situation in which you're driving home, and you have every intention to stop at the store, and you forget, and you don't know why you forget." 

How do we make sure this never happens again? The Cavalieros have created Ray Ray's Pledge, which aims to prevent child deaths in hot cars with a daycare drop-off system where teachers contact parents if children are not there at the designated time. 

KidsAndCars.org has the following tips: 

  • Put a toy belonging to your child in the front seat as a reminder. 
  • Leave something you will need at your next destination, like a cell phone or briefcase, in the backseat. 
  • Put your child's carseat in the middle of the backseat so that it's easier to see the child. 
  • Set up a system with any child-care providers in which you call them if you are not planning to drop off your child on that day, and have the caregiver call you if the child doesn't arrive as expected on a day that you have planned to drop the child off. 
  • Get in the habit of checking the backseat before locking your car and walking away. 

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