Beat the heat, check the backseat

  • Published
  • By Joyce Atlee
  • Family Advocacy Outreach Manager
Joel Gray was just 5 months old when he died. Lourdes Duvall and Tytus Hoskins lived only six months. These are just three of the nation's 33 young victims who died from hyperthermia in vehicles during 2012. So far this year, 23 children have suffered untimely deaths, most after having been forgotten in vehicles by their parents or caregivers.

Since 1998, more than 580 U.S. children have waited helplessly for someone to rescue them from scorching vehicles. They waited, trapped and alone, as they sweated and dehydrated, their core body temperature soaring to lethal heights.

Never leave a child in a car unattended, for any reason! Even in mild temperatures, a car becomes an oven very quickly and turns into a death trap. In 2010, one 17-month-old died when the outside temperature was only 73 degrees.

When the temperature outside is 75 degrees, it only takes 10 minutes for the interior of a vehicle to heat up to 94 degrees. If the thermometer reads 80, a 30-minute errand can send the car's inside temperature soaring to 114 degrees. At 90 degrees, a 60-minute shopping spree boosts the car's interior to 133 degrees. There is no safe length of time to leave a child alone in a vehicle.

When left in a hot vehicle, a young child's core body temperature may increase three to five times faster than that of an adult. An increase in humidity also amplifies the rate at which temperatures climb by as much as two times than on a dry day. According to a study by Jan Null, a certified consulting meteorologist for the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences, "Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature reaches 104° F and a body temperature of 107° is considered lethal. And because of the smaller body mass and lessened ability for their bodies to cool themselves, children are particularly vulnerable."

In 494 child vehicular hyperthermia deaths during a 13-year period, 51 percent of victims were forgotten in the vehicle, while 30 percent of the victims trapped themselves, unknowingly playing a deadly game, hiding in the trunk or the vehicle interior. Seventeen percent of the fatalities had been deliberately left alone in the vehicle.

A case in Enid several years ago involving a baby left in a car by its relatives shares one common theme with other forgetful caretaker incidents. Typically, someone straps the baby into the car seat, then drives somewhere, parks and goes inside, inadvertently leaving the baby in the car. Thanks to alert bystanders, the child in Enid was rescued after being trapped in the vehicle for 40 minutes, unconscious but alive.

More often, hours pass and it's too late before someone discovers that the child was never brought into the house, or finds that the baby was not dropped off at daycare, like the Durant, Okla., case in 2005. In that tragic incident, a trip to the doctor was enough to make a mother unthinkingly rush to work and go inside, totally forgetting that she had not stopped to take her 20-month-old son to daycare. That little boy was found dead in the vehicle three hours later.

One 10-month-old boy, Michael (Mikey) Warschauer, who would have been 10 years old this year, died under similar circumstances. His father, whose own memory lapse caused his son to die in the car, offers safety tips to help other parents at http://www.4rkidssake.org/mikeysstory.htm.

"The responsibility was mine. I left him in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of a locked car without realizing he was there," he wrote on his web page. "But I also know there are simple techniques that might help other families avoid such tragedy. Please, please develop in your family a basic safety technique to remind yourselves that a baby is in the car seat. Put a diaper bag in the front seat every time your baby is in the car. Or put your purse, briefcase, wallet or cellphone in the back seat where you will have to retrieve it before leaving the car. Or call your spouse every morning the minute you arrive at the day care center (with follow up from your spouse if you haven't called by a certain time.) Discuss the issue right now with your spouse, and come up with a basic safety plan that you will use every time."

Mikey's grieving father offered one last plaintive plea: "And finally, especially to fathers, please slow down. I tried so hard to be a dedicated father, but at a crucial moment I failed my son due to a lapse of attention. When your children are born, slow down your lives so that you can give them the care and attention they need and deserve." (Good advice for all parents...)

At Tinker, the Child Supervision Guidelines state that no child under age 10 can ever be left on base in a vehicle unattended. To see the complete guidelines, go to page 19 of the Balfour Beatty Resident Guide at http://www.tinkerfamilyhousing.com/media/ 659607/resident-guide.pdf

If you see a young child alone in a car (on base), immediately call Security Forces at 734-3737 or call 911. Incidents should also be referred to the Family Advocacy Program 582-6604 as child neglect.