Sheng Li, the Metairie engineer whose 11-month-old daughter died when he accidentally left her in the back seat of his car in August, will not be charged with a crime.
Li's lawyer, Joe Marino, said Thursday that Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick's office informed him that it has refused to charge Li with negligent homicide in the death of his daughter, Claire Li.
Claire Li died of heatstroke after spending all day in the car on Aug. 31, when the 90-degree heat outside likely sent the temperature in the car to about 150 degrees.
Sheng Li put his 11-month-old daughter into his car Thursday morning, intending to drop her off at daycare — but he apparently forgot her and …
"The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office conducted a thorough investigation to which Mr. Li and his wife fully cooperated," Marino said in a release. "The facts of this case clearly show that Mr. Li made a horrible mistake in forgetting that his child was in the rear-facing seat of his minivan. However, his actions were not criminal. This was a tragic accident made by a loving, caring father."
Connick's office released a statement late Thursday, saying the decision was made after a full review of the evidence. "This was a very tragic event, and we believe this is the fair and just result," the statement said.
A charge of negligent homicide would have required prosecutors to prove that Li's action represented "a gross deviation below the standard of care expected to be maintained by a reasonably careful man under like circumstances." Li would have faced between two and five years in prison if convicted.
Li had intended to drop Claire off at daycare that Thursday morning but forgot her and went straight to work at his web-design firm internship. He didn't realize he had forgotten her until he returned home to cook dinner for the family. He went back out to the car to find Claire unresponsive in the back seat.
Marino's release included a statement from Sheng and his wife, Yan Du:
"Ever since that day it's been like we live in a terrible dream. We still don't believe what has happened. We are thankful for the thorough investigation of the sheriff and DA's offices. The realization that this was a tragic accident will enable us to begin the process of rebuilding our lives."
The couple said they are thankful for the support they have received from friends.
"Thank for all for walking us all through the most difficult time in our lives," the statement said. "My husband and I would not be able to survive this terrible tragedy without the support we have been given."
The couple said they are still grieving, but they plan to advocate to prevent others from encountering the same problem.
A 2009 story in the Washington Post examining the phenomenon of parents forgetting children in hot cars said authorities charge the parents in about 60 percent of such cases, deciding in the other 40 percent that the death was a tragic accident that cannot be prosecuted.
The article noted the number of children accidentally left in in cars began to climb in the 1990s after car-safety experts began recommending car seats for children be put in the back seat because of the dangers posed by front-seat airbags.
The mistake is typically made because of stress, exhaustion or changes in routine, when the parts of the brain that handle conscious thought can hand duties off to the part of the brain that performs more basic functions at an unconscious level.
At the time of Li's arrest, Sheriff Joe Lopinto said that "good parents with good intentions make bad mistakes."
Li, a Chinese engineer who moved here with his wife to break into web design, was working at a local company while trying to get his green card on the path to becoming a permanent legal resident. He also has a 4-year-old son.
Marino, who is also a state representative from Gretna, said that he received more letters of support for Li and his wife — some from strangers — than for any other client he has represented in his 25 years as a defense attorney.
“I have gotten to know this family on a personal basis, and although I am relieved that no criminal charges will be filed, I know that this will remain part of their lives forever,” he said.