Hot vehicles deadly to children

Surry County Emergency Services demonstrates the difference in temperatures inside and outside of a closed vehicle at last October’s Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival in Elkin.

Every year as the temperatures rise, so do the number of children who die in hot vehicles.

Myron Waddell, assistant emergency services director for Surry County Emergency Services, said children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults’ bodies. Combine that with the fact that the temperature inside a closed vehicle can quickly rise more than 50 degrees higher than the temperature outside, he said, and the need for educating the public on the danger of children left in vehicles dying from heatstroke becomes urgent.

Last year at the Sept. 27 Elkin Pumpkin Festival, Surry County Emergency Services officials placed a thermometer sensor inside a Ford Explorer with all the windows and doors closed and an additional one outside the vehicle to demonstrate that point. Waddell said the temperature reading inside the vehicle — 130 degrees Farenheit — was displayed on a large thermometer display provided by the N.C. Fire Marshal’s Office for everyone to see along with the temperature outside it — 78.5 degrees Farenheit.

“That’s a huge difference,” he said.

Waddell said it only takes 10 minutes for a vehicle with all of its doors and windows shut to heat up as much as 20 degrees and become deadly. “Parents need to realize that cracking a window doesn’t help,” he said. “That really doesn’t help.”

So far this year, five children across the nation have died from heatstroke after being left in hot vehicles.

This past Thursday, a 3-year-old boy apparently wandered outside his home in Sandpoint, Idaho, and climbed into a hot car with two family dogs, according to a north Idaho sheriff’s officer. The boy and the dogs died.

While the child’s cause of death is still under investigation, Bonner County Sheriff’s Capt. Ror Lakewood said in a telephone interview that heat is believed to be a major contributing factor.

Outdoor temperatures reached the low 80s Thursday in north Idaho, the National Weather Service said.

The boy’s mother and her boyfriend may have fallen asleep in the house in the small community of Spirit Lake near the Washington border, Lakewold said. Detectives believe the child headed out with the dogs and all three of them climbed into the car. The boy was not locked in the vehicle, the officer said.

The mother found him, called for medics and tried to revive him but he was dead at the scene, Lakewold said.

An autopsy was planned for Friday. Detectives are trying to determine how long the boy was in the car, the officer said.

“It’s too early in the investigation to say whether charges will be pursued,” he said. “Certainly they’ll be considered if we can prove negligence.”

Lakewold did not release the name of the boy or his mother.

On June 5, a 22-month-old girl became the fourth child to die after two Baton Rouge, La. women accused of running an unlicensed daycare left her in a van with all the windows closed, according to police reports.

Both women were charged with negligent homicide. One of the women also faces an additional obstruction of justice charge for allegedly telling the other one to lie to police.

Although Surry County has never had a child to die from heat stroke after being left unattended in a vehicle, Waddell said there was “a near-miss several years ago.”

When the bodies of children and adults reach 104 degrees, Waddell said their internal organs will start to fail and shut down. If left untreated, death follows soon after a body reaches 107 degrees.

A poster developed by Safe Kids Worldwide uses the ACT acronym to help reduce the number of deaths from heatstroke:

A – Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute.

C – Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, purse or cell phone that is needed at your final destination. (Waddell said he had even heard of people taking off one of their shoes to put beside of a child restrained in a carseat in the back to remind them.)

T – Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911.

Waddell said Surry County Emergency Services has never received a 911 call about a child left unattended in a vehicle.

From 1998 through 2014, 636 children throughout the nation died from being left in unattended, hot vehicles. “That averages out to about 37 children per year nationwide,” he said.

North Carolina was tied with Tennessee for having the sixth highest number during that 16-year period with 23 apiece. Texas had the most with 95, followed by Florida with 68, California with 43 and Arizona with 28.

Waddell said the hot vehicle fatalities represent children from every socioeconomic class. The third death this year was an 18-month-old girl left outside an elementary school in Hiland Park, Fla., where her mother was working. “A lot of these folks are good people,” he said. “It’s not that they’re bad parents.”

One pattern that has emerged, Waddell said, is that parents are more likely to forget about having their children in their backseat when they are not normally the ones who take them to daycare, a babysitter or school.

Waddell said research into the fatalities showed that 53 percent of the children who died in vehicles were forgotten by the drivers of the vehicles; 29 percent were playing in unattended vehicles and became trapped; and 17 percent were intentionally left in the vehicles while the drivers went in to do a quick errand.

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