An infant’s close call to death leaves much to consider when it comes to the dependability of a neighbor. Many residents come to rely on neighbors for both benign requests like sugar or babysitting. Some entrust neighbors to keep watch over their homes while away on vacation. Others rely on neighbors in the event of an emergency. That neighbor’s response can mean the difference between life and death.
In the case of 11 month-old, Betty Jean Kelly, a neighbor’s response time meant the difference in time suffered and potentially the difference between life and death. While the infant did suffer pain, the neighbor’s interaction prevented a double tragedy.
With Betty Jean placed at the head of his bed, Jason Fields of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, worked on his laptop. Fields, 43, was sitting at the edge of his bed when he suffered what the coroner speculates to be cardiac arrest, given his medical history, and collapsed trapping Betty Jean beneath him.
After three days, Field’s son, reported to be between the ages of 3 and 5, intervened for fearing his father was dead. He ventured to a neighboring relative’s home to report his father’s assumed death. The relative, however, did not act immediately.
Sabine Parish Deputy Coroner Ron Rivers reported that the informed relative completed multiple chores, including ironing, before investigating the boy’s claim. When the relative escorted the boy home, they encountered a smell permeating through the front door and realized the boy was telling the truth. Moving inside, they discovered the infant pinned beneath Fields’s decomposing body.
Betty Jean was lying face up and saturated in body fluid. Dehydrated, the infant was wedged under her father’s body which was inflated due to gas build up. Unable to move, she was blistered on her chest and back, and a black mark, assumed to have resulted from unremitted contact with the wall, adorned her forehead. Her chest was able to expand allowing her to breath.
The infant’s recovery was regarded as being remarkable but that another day in that condition could have killed her. Having had to be airlifted to University Health Shreveport, Betty Jean has since recovered and is expected to be released.
Reports have not indicated any questioning as to the reason behind the delayed response. However, because of the delay, Betty Jean endured dehydration and pain longer she had to.
While are many theories circle around the neighbor’s hesitance to respond, one theory suggests that the child’s distress could have been deemed a misrepresentation of the truth. Nonetheless the infant’s close call relied the neighboring relative’s dependability. The relative heard the boy’s story but did not take him seriously enough to respond immediately. Both direct and indirect, i.e. mobilizing police, intervention were delayed due to an immediate failure to act.
In a study examining the relationship between neighborhood characteristics and residents’ likelihood of using direct informal social control, i.e., through direct intervention, findings indicated that social ties increases the probability of direct informal social control. However, trust and social cohesion does not significantly affect direct informal social control.
Thus the relationship between the boy and the person to whom he relayed the message is causal in the failure to respond immediately to the assumed-death notification. However, the reason may not have been due to a lack of trust. It may have just been familiarity with the child and his past behaviors.
Social ties did lead the boy to seeking help from the relative over another neighbor, perhaps one residing a closer distance. Reports have not indicated the distance between the relative and Fields’s home.
Relationships between residents vary across neighborhoods for various reasons. However, infant Betty Jean’s close call gives insight to the importance of communication between neighboring residents and relatives when their dependability in emergency response reasons. While many people hesitate to get to know the person next door, some will be surprised by what measures, if any, the neighbor will take to save their life.
By Charice Long