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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 11:39 pm | Fair 44º


Diane Dimond: Summertime Turns Cars Into Death Chambers

Why does this keep happening? Surely, people know by now how dangerous it is to leave a child in the car in the summertime! It can be deadly, yet it keeps happening year after year.

Consider this my annual reminder to never ever leave a child alone in an enclosed vehicle, no matter the time of year.

Children are especially vulnerable to heatstroke. As their internal temperature rises, their little hearts beat faster, which in turn diverts blood from their lungs, brain and other organs. The result? A painful headache and excruciating spasms of the arms and legs.

It is a terrible death.

Experts say if it’s 93 degrees outside, the interior of a car can quickly rise as high as 147 degrees. Imagine trying to catch your breath in a small, hot space. Now imagine there is no way to escape because someone you trusted either forgot you were there or deliberately left you there to, as one pot-smoking young mother of two is said to have put it, teach you “a lesson.” Both her daughters died while she took a long nap inside.

Since 1990, more than 800 kids have died in hot cars. Some deaths were the result of terrible accidents, others of criminal neglect.

So far this year, according to NoHeatStroke.org, at least 29 young souls have been lost in this torturous way. The toll will likely go higher as medical examiners release their findings on other suspicious child deaths. Cases from 2017 show that the tragedies are nationwide.

In Portales, N.M., a day-care worker left two toddlers, both just about 2 years old, strapped in their car seats after having had lunch at a nearby park. About 90 minutes later, she returned to the car to retrieve something and discovered her mistake. One of the babies was dead. As I write this, the other remains in critical condition.

In Caldwell, Idaho, a working mother left her 5-month-old girl with her boyfriend for the day. She says he left the infant inside his enclosed car at a car dealership while he signed papers to buy a new vehicle. He says he lost track of time while the baby baked to death in the sun.

In Kerrville, Texas, a young mother decided hanging out with a 16-year-old male was more interesting than caring for her two daughters, ages 2 and 1. Police say she intentionally left them in the car for more than 15 hours. A grand jury will decide whether 19-year-old Amanda Hawkins is charged with murder.

In Chattanooga, Tenn., Travis McCullough left his three children in a blazing hot car while he went to work. He reportedly yelled for help, and when a passerby pulled her car into the parking lot, he “tossed” his lifeless, naked 11-month-old daughter to the good Samaritan and sped away. He was arrested for criminal homicide and child neglect.

Texas holds the dubious distinction of being the leading state for hot-car deaths of children. But adults can be at risk, too. Outside of Austin, a 48-year-old disabled woman recently went missing from her care facility and was found dead in a hot van outside. When or how she got there is unknown.

And let’s not forget our pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association says hundreds of pets die from heat exhaustion every year. It’s faulty thinking to believe your pet will be OK if left in the car for “just a few minutes” or if you “crack the window.”

Sadly, at least three police K-9 dogs have died so far this year when their officer handlers left them in their vehicles.

The news will surely worsen because traditionally, July, August and September are the deadliest months for hot-car deaths of children. But they have happened in every single month of the year, including January. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hovering in the 90s outside for it to be triple digits inside a car.

I’m sorry to say there’s not a lot that can be done about negligent or criminally inclined parents until something horrible happens. But there is something that can be done to help frazzled parents who simply — and honestly — forget their child is strapped into the back seat of their car. It's called the HOT CARS Act of 2017, and it would require all new cars to include a detecting sensor that alerts a departing driver if a passenger remains in the back seat.

“Our cars can already alert drivers when they leave their keys in the car, their lights on, or their trunk open — none of which are life threatening,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. “Cars are mandated to have seat belts, interior trunk-releases and rear backup cameras.”

So why can’t this inexpensive technology also be included?

The answer is: It can be. And it is already available in a few new cars. Write your representatives in Washington and urge them to get behind this important legislation.

Innocent lives depend on it.

Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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