William and Michelle Puckett, Winchester, KY

On August 10, 1998 we got an early surprise. Our son, (1st and only child) Bryan Edward was born. He was almost 2 months early and we were scared to death. Bryan stayed at the hospital that he was delivered at for about 4 hours before they took him to the University of Kentucky Neonatal ICU where he stayed only 1 week and he got to come home healthy.

For the next few months we got the hang of being new parents. My wife Michelle was off work for 12 weeks after the birth and bonded with her baby. I stayed home for about 2 weeks then went back to work. I am a full time firefighter-EMT and I work 24-hour shifts so I am gone 1 day and home for 2 days. (<18 hours) Michelle worked nights at the Lexington Herald Leader newspaper in Lexington, KY. This worked out well when my wife went back to work because I would watch Bryan on my days off and his God Mother would watch him the nights both of us worked.

Around 4 to 5 months after Bryan was born we found out he had severe asthma and we had to watch him very closely every time he got sick. February 14, 1999 he got sick and we had to spend 1 week at the hospital in an oxygen tent. Bryan had very hard time breathing and had a high temperature. Shortly after that Michelle decided she was tired of working nights and not getting to spend time with Bryan so she went to day shift and that put on the hunt for childcare. That finely brought us to the door of Karen Murphy.

Karen was a RN and a mother of a 2. A girl names Rachael (3 years-old) and a son Jason. (1 year-old) We met with her several times before taking Bryan to meet her. Bryan and her son started playing and we talked to Karen and decided she was the right person to take care of our pride and joy.

The first day Michelle dropped him off and I picked him up early. When I got there she was carrying him and he was very happy. She have me a report of the days activities and we talked for a few minutes of things she would need. For the next few months this was about the way it went. When I was off I would pick him up early most of the time. I would never let him know I was coming. I would just show up knocking at the door. Every time every thing was the same. Bryan was happy and Karen would give a report of Bryan's day.

On July 13th, 1999 it started just liked every other day. Michelle took Bryan to Karen's at 7:30am and at around 8:45am she called Michelle and said Bryan had a temperature. She wanted to give him Tylenol because he was teething. Michelle said ok and they talked for 10 to 15 minutes. Around noon I went to the paper to have lunch with Michelle and she decided to go to the tanning bed with her friend Suzie. So I was to pick Bryan up around 4:30pm. I was working that day at my 2nd job. Around 4:30pm I was sitting at Karen's house to pick up Bryan. Around 4:45pm or 5pm Karen's husband showed up and invited me in. This did not concern me because Michelle did not pick Bryan up until around 5:50pm so Karen could be gone to the store.

Around 5:25pm Michelle called Karen's house wanting to know what time I picked up Bryan. George (Karen's husband) said William is here waiting on Bryan to get back. Karen was not home yet and Michelle asked to speak to me. She was still at the newspaper and was going to be later getting home than she had planned. She started telling me about what was going on at a local mall. Someone had locked 2 children in a car. Right off she asked, "You don't think that was Bryan?" I said "no way", Bryan is with Karen and he is fine.

I sat with George for about 10 to 15 minutes. Then I started getting worried where is my son; where is Karen? So I went outside to call Michelle's cell phone when I did someone answered her phone and said he was with two police officers and that I should go to the hospital and that my wife was on her way there.

I asked what was going on and no one would tell me what was going on; just that I needed to get to the hospital. I went back in to tell George something had happened and right at the same time the phone rang. It was Michelle. She was screaming and crying saying it was our baby locked in the car and that she was on the way to the hospital with a police officer and for me to meet them there.

I ran out of the Murphy's house and got to the hospital as fast as I could. When I go there they took me to Michelle and about 10 minutes later the doctor came in and told us this was the hardest thing that he ever had to do. He told us that our son was dead! He was only 11 months old.

Our son is dead today because his babysitter left him in her car for almost 2 hours while she shopped. It was 82 degrees that day. She said that he was sleeping and she did not want to bother him. She was just going to be a few minutes. Just a few minutes turned into almost 120 minutes before she went back to her car. There are allot of other things that happened that I cannot talk about because of the trial is still pending for August 2000.

Karen claims she had a mental seizure that made her forget or loose track of time. This would not of made a difference is she would have taken my child in with her. Karen also left her own child, Jason in the car right beside my son. Jason lived and we don't know how he is doing today. She knew she left them and that is all that matters to my wife and me.

After all of this we are fighting for Bryans Law in Kentucky. It will say that if a person dies from being left in a situation that causes death you will be charged with 2nd degree manslaughter, whether if be a child or an elderly person.

In closing this I would like to say that we now have twin boys and we are very excited. We would like people to realize that leaving our children in car is deadly. It is something that we never did and something we will never do. We will continue to educate people and keep public awareness up on this issue.

Wednesday, August 11, 1999
Section: Main News
Page: A1
By Valarie Honeycutt
Herald-Leader Staff Writer
William and Michelle Puckett were kneeling at a cross they had placed in the parking lot where their son died when an uninvited visitor showed up yesterday: the woman charged with killing him.

Karen Murphy, the baby sitter accused of causing the death of Bryan Edward Puckett last month by leaving him in a hot car for two hours while she shopped at a children's clothing store, drove up as the Pucketts grieved.

The Pucketts had invited a reporter and photographer from the Herald-Leader to cover the impromptu memorial, which they held in the Mist Lake Plaza parking lot, at the very spot where Bryan Puckett died. The Pucketts intended to talk with the newspaper about their plans to seek a new state law - "Bryan's Law" - that would create stiff penalties for leaving children unattended in vehicles.

Instead, a bizarre, emotional scene unfolded as the participants in a tragedy were reunited for the first time.

Murphy has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and second-degree criminal abuse in connection with the July 13 incident. She has entered a plea of not guilty. It's unclear how she came to be at the shopping center yesterday. The Pucketts said few people knew of their plans to visit the scene of their son's death.

Murphy, 37, who is out of jail on an $8,000 bond, drove off after a brief, intense exchange with the Pucketts. She could not be reached for comment later.

`Balloons on a cross'

Yesterday would have been Bryan Edward Puckett's first birthday.

To mark the date, and remember their son, the Pucketts, who live in Winchester, planned an informal memorial in the parking lot where he died.

They put up a small cross, and attached the baby's photo to it. They tied birthday balloons to it. They cried.

"We're putting balloons on a cross, instead of candles on a cake," Michelle Puckett said.

A few minutes later, about 1 p.m., a car drove up. William Puckett whispered, "I think it's Karen Murphy. I swear to God I do."

Murphy was driving the white Dodge Intrepid in which Bryan Puckett died. Police say she left Bryan and her own son, 14-month-old Jason Murphy, locked in the car while she shopped at Once Upon A Child, a clothing store.

Social workers removed Jason, who has recovered from serious injuries, from Murphy's home. They also removed Murphy's 3-year-old daughter, Rachael, who was found nude and urinating in the shopping center's parking lot on the day of Bryan Puckett's death.

Yesterday, Murphy parked the white car directly across from the spot where Bryan had died.

`You killed my baby!'

The encounter lasted about five minutes.

Neither Puckett threatened Murphy, but still William Puckett felt compelled to hold his screaming wife back, gripping her so hard he left bruises on her arms.

He seemed to be making a conscious effort not to speak.

"Karen, why?" Michelle Puckett wailed. "What were you thinking, Karen?"

Murphy showed no emotion.

"I wasn't," she said in a low voice.

"That's exactly right," Michelle Puckett said. "Do you know where I'm standing? I'm standing in the last place that you had my child. You killed him. Karen Murphy, you killed my baby!"

"I go through that every day," Murphy said.

"No. You've got Jason and you can hold him," Michelle Puckett said.

"You have every right to say whatever it is you are saying," Murphy said.

"You're driving the car that my baby died in," Michelle Puckett said. She said: "Karen, my child died in the backseat of your car and you're driving it around ...."

"They gave it back to us," Murphy said. Her tone was matter-of-fact.

"I don't care. Burn it," Michelle Puckett said. "Burn that ... car, girl. I would."

Twice during the encounter, Michelle Puckett screamed for someone to call the police. She said later that she found Murphy's unemotional tone upsetting.

At one point, she demanded of Murphy, "What do you have to say?"

Murphy said, "Michelle, all I can say is I'm sorry. I'll leave."

"That's all you can say? You're ... crazy!" Michelle Puckett said.

Murphy left before police arrived. As she drove away, Michelle Puckett screamed over and over, "You killed my baby! You killed my baby!"

Clashing cymbals

After the emotional encounter, Michelle and William Puckett sat in the lobby of the shopping center's tanning bed salon to rest.

Michelle Puckett's hands jerked uncontrollably as she spoke. "It was the first time I'd seen her and she acted like she didn't care."

For the first time, Michelle Puckett, who works at the Herald-Leader, spoke publicly about Bryan's death and the baby sitter:

She said she hired Murphy at the end of April . There were no signs of problems, she said; the baby loved Murphy, a one-time nurse, and showed it by reaching for her often.

On the morning of July 13, Bryan had clung to his mother and cried. Murphy called Michelle Puckett at work later and told her that he had calmed down and that Bryan and Jason were coincidentally dressed in matching Ralph Lauren T-shirts.

"They look like twins," Puckett recalled Karen Murphy telling her.

William Puckett, a Clark County firefighter, was to pick up their son from Murphy's house that afternoon. But when he arrived there, he learned that Murphy had taken the children out and had not returned. Michelle Puckett, meanwhile, decided to go to a tanning bed at Mist Lake Shopping Center with a co-worker.

Sometime after 4:30 p.m., the co-worker "called and said we couldn't get in because some mother had locked her babies in the car."

The woman was blonde, Puckett learned, and the car was white. From her car, Puckett telephoned her husband, who told her that Karen Murphy wasn't home with the children yet.

At that point, Puckett mentioned the scene she'd heard about at the shopping center. "You don't think it's my baby?" she asked her husband.

No, he assured her.

But a noise was going off in Michelle Puckett's head. It sounded like clashing band cymbals, she recalled.

She knew she had to go to the shopping center.

`The prettiest flowers'

The next thing Michelle Puckett heard was the sirens.

She saw the Dodge Intrepid, its window shattered by a sheriff's deputy who had pulled Bryan out of the car and performed CPR. Then Officer Tommy Puckett took her to the University of Kentucky Children's Hospital, where she finally saw Bryan, who had been pronounced dead at 5:18 p.m.

Tommy Puckett, who is not related to William and Michelle Puckett, was coincidentally the first officer to arrive at the shopping center yesterday.

He arrived after people called to report the encounter between Murphy and the Pucketts .

Officer Puckett talked to Michelle about her son's death yesterday. He apologized for, perhaps, giving her false hope that Bryan was alive in the moments before she learned of his death.

He was not the only one who sought to console the grieving parents.

Before Murphy showed up, strangers had walked up to them, one by one, hugged them and cried. "He takes the prettiest flowers," shopper Wanda Payne of Wimore told them. She was talking about God. "And your baby was a pretty flower."

William Puckett held his wife, Michelle, yesterday as she spoke angrily to Karen Murphy, who is accused of leaving the Pucketts' infant son in a parked vehicle in the Mist Lake Plaza parking lot. Bryan Edward Puckett died as a result. Murphy stayed about 5 minutes.

Before they saw Murphy, the Pucketts tied balloons to a cross they put up in the parking lot as a memorial to their son.

Bryan Edward Puckett would have had his first birthday yesterday; his parents decorated a small cross in his memory.

William and Michelle Puckett stood before the memorial to their son at the Mist Lake Plaza shopping center parking lot. The Pucketts want to get a new law on the books with stiff penalties for people who leave children in cars.

Karen Murphy arrived while the Pucketts were at the parking lot. It was unclear why Murphy appeared when she did.

Wednesday, January 26, 2000
Section: Main News
Edition: Final
Page: A1
By Louise Taylor, Herald-Leader Staff Writer
A psychiatrist is prepared to testify that baby sitter Karen Murphy was mentally impaired when she left two toddlers in a locked car on a sweltering July day last year in Lexington.

In papers filed in Fayette Circuit Court, Murphy's attorney, Ross Stinetorf, says the doctor will give "expert testimony relating to a mental condition which bears upon her guilt."

The defense move has prompted a three-month delay in Murphy's trial for manslaughter, felony criminal abuse and misdemeanor endangerment. The four-day trial is now set for May 8. One of the children, 11-month-old Bryan Edward Puckett of Winchester, died in the hot Dodge Intrepid as Murphy, police said, spent two hours shopping at a children's resale shop off Richmond Road. Another child, Murphy's 14-month-old son, was hospitalized but survived.

Lawyers were close-mouthed yesterday about specifics of the case.

A police inventory of items seized from the car reveals that three prescription drugs, including a seizure medication, were recovered along with more than $972 in cash stuffed in a Redken cosmetics bag.

One of the drugs, clonazepam, is used to treat epileptic and other seizures but is also prescribed for less serious ailments, such as, in combination with muscle relaxants, to promote deep sleep and loosen stiff muscles. The other two drugs in the car were Augmentin, an antibiotic, and Promethazine, an antihistamine.

"We've been told she is saying she had a 'mental seizure.' Just what that means, I don't know," said Michelle Puckett, Bryan's mother. "I do know that if she had seizure problems she needed to tell somebody and I would not have left my baby there."

Assistant commonwealth's attorney Lou Anna Red Corn said that to use the mental-impairment defense, Murphy "has to prove she did this thing as a result of mental illness or something like that, that she lacked the capacity to appreciate that what she was doing was wrong or to conform her conduct to what the law required."

Red Corn said she could not comment on any specifics of Murphy's case, but the defense will allow the prosecutor's office to have the baby sitter evaluated by its own expert in an effort to refute the impairment claim.

Murphy's attorney did not return phone calls to his office.

Bryan Puckett's parents are pushing the state legislature this session to enact stiff penalties for those who leave children in cars.

Karen Murphy left two children in a car in July. One of them, whom she was baby-sitting, died. Her son was hospitalized but survived.

Bryan's Law
Targeting kids left in cars
Dead toddler's parents want tougher state law
Associated Press
LEXINGTON - The parents of a toddler who died after being left in a hot car by a baby sitter have begun a campaign for tougher penalties against people who leave children unattended in vehicles.

William and Michelle Puckett of Winchester have posted fliers in store windows and on vehicle windshields in that city and in Paris.

The fliers urge people to call their state representatives and senators and tell them that they need to pass a law - ''Bryan's Law'' - providing strict penalties for leaving a child in a car.

Their 11-month-old son, Bryan Edward Puckett, was pronounced dead at a hospital July 13 after a baby sitter allegedly left him and her own son in an unventilated car for two hours while she shopped at a Lexington clothes store.

What drives the Pucketts is their belief their son did not die in vain.

''He was here for 11 months for some sort of a reason,'' Michelle Puckett said.
Posters soon will go up in Lexington, and friends around the state will take them to other communities.

The high temperature in Lexington that day was 82 degrees. Experts say that at that outside temperature, the inside of a closed car can exceed 100 degrees in about 10 minutes.

The baby sitter, Karen Murphy, 37, of Avon, was charged with second-degree manslaughter, which carries a penalty of five to 10 years in prison, and with second-degree criminal abuse. She has pleaded innocent.

The Pucketts believe the law needs to be simplified.

''They didn't charge Karen Murphy until (six hours after Bryan's death) because they didn't know what to charge her with,'' Michelle Puckett said.

''I know that this won't keep it from happening again, but at least they'll know what the penalty is.''

Fayette County also has a law that prohibits leaving a child under the age of 8 in a car for more than 15 minutes. That law provides for a penalty of up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to $250, or both. Michelle Puckett thinks that is not tough enough.

State Rep. R.J. Palmer II, D-Winchester, said he plans to prefile a bill that would make it illegal to leave children in vehicles. He said the legislation also would cover elderly and disabled people.

Palmer said he is not sure what the bill will say or what the penalties will be, but he said he is getting support from other legislators he has contacted.

''The actual goal will be to put some more teeth in the statute to protect children from this type of incident, especially in situations that result in death,'' he said. ''I think they deserve to be protected. I feel like it's similar to fatal DUI crashes. There was a time when we didn't prosecute DUI as homicide and murder. Now we do that on a regular basis.'