At least 23 children have died as a result of overheating in cars nationwide in 2012. Five of those deaths were in Tennessee. Below is the number of such deaths in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama over the past three years.
Year TN GA AL
2012 // 5 // 0 // 2
2011 // 0 // 3 // 1
2010 // 3 // 3 // 0
Source: Meteorologist Jan Null, San Francisco State University
Five-year-old Leland Bates should have been in school today.
The red-haired little boy was set to begin kindergarten at Taylor Elementary School in Cleveland, Tenn., last Tuesday, toting washable crayons and No. 2 pencils to the classroom, as the class supply list requires.
Instead, his mother will stand before a Bradley County judge today and plead guilty or not guilty to killing Leland and his 3-year-old brother, River. Police say she left the boys in an overheated car.
Tasha Bates, 26, has been indicted by a grand jury on two counts of felony murder in connection with the deaths in late June.
She also has been charged with two counts of aggravated child abuse and endangerment, four counts of initiation of manufacture of methamphetamine and one count of promotion of methamphetamine manufacture.
Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett has said that evidence found at Bates' rural home showed she had cooked and used meth.
Bates' arraignment before Criminal Court Judge Carroll Ross is set for this morning.
"I'm not really sure what to expect," said the boys' paternal grandmother, Linda Bates, who plans to be in court today.
"This is the first hurdle. I just want justice done," she said. "I'm not sure what that is exactly right now, but we just need this to move ahead so we can heal."
As of Friday, Tasha Bates — who is still in jail without bond — had not acquired an attorney. She will be offered the opportunity to have one appointed to her case today.
Tasha Bates originally told officials that she left the boys outside the family's home unattended on a Slip 'n' Slide water toy in the 101-degree heat and found them unconscious 45 minutes later.
But Bradley County sheriff's investigators say the boys' autopsies show they suffered fatal injuries from being left inside a searing-hot car, and they believe meth use was involved.
Since the Bates brothers' deaths, three other Tennessee children have died in car- and heat-related incidents.
With five fatalities so far this year, the state leads the nation in what's known as "vehicular hyperthermia," according to data kept by meteorologist Jan Null at San Francisco State University.
On Aug. 7, 5-month-old Joel Gray died in Donelson, Tenn., a Nashville suburb. He was left unattended for five hours in his family's minivan after his mother, an attorney, dropped her other children off at school and forgot to drop Joel off for his second day at church day care.
A week earlier in Smyrna, Tenn., 2-year-old Savannah Marise and her 3-year-old brother, Daniel, were found dead of hyperthermia after being pulled from their mother's car on a 99-degree day.
Officials say the mother, 25-year-old Samantha Harper, had fallen asleep for three hours in her home while the children were in the car with the windows rolled up.
Harper has been charged with two counts of especially aggravated child abuse. Joel's mother, 38-year-old Stephanie Gray, has not been charged.
If convicted, Tasha Bates faces life in prison for the felony murder charge, between 15 and 25 years for aggravated child neglect, and 8 and 12 years for the meth charges.
Linda Bates has custody of Tasha Bates' oldest son, Skyler. Linda Bates' son, Jonathan, and Tasha Bates recently divorced.
The boys' grandmother said she has been struggling to explain to 8-year-old Skyler what happened to the boys. He often asks to see photos of them, and asks how long his mother will be in jail.
"Some days it is so hard," Linda Bates said Friday. "I just ask God, 'Please give me the words to say.'"