LAURINBURG – Local police, sheriff’s and EMS officials feel fortunate that they receive few reports of children left unattended in hot cars and more fortunate that there has only been one death in the last 16 years.
EMS Director Roylin Hammond recalls the incident in 2001 when a three-year-old child slipped away from his parents and let himself into a car. The boy fastened his seat belt but could not unbuckle it and was trapped. Each of the parents thought the child was with the other one.
“It was not a negligent situation; it was not intentional. It was just a miscommunication,” Hammond said of the tragedy.
With incidents of hot car deaths more prevalent in the news and temperatures on the rise, local officials want parents and pet owners to be aware of what can happen.
“If a car is not running with the air conditioning on, it can heat up very quickly,” Chief Deputy Lloyd Goins. “With the way the heat index has been, I suggest you do not ever leave your children or pets in the car.”
Goins said parents who intentionally leave children in the car will be reported to child protective services and could possibly face charges of child endangerment.
In 2015 Sgt. Mike Woods of the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office rescued an infant who had accidentally been locked in the car when his grandmother dropped the keys while putting him in his car seat. The child had already been in the car 15 minutes when Woods got the call. Woods and the grandmother were grateful for the child’s uneventful rescue.
According to Heatkills.org, on a sunny 70 degree day the temperature inside a car can reach 104 degrees in half an hour, and in an hour, it can rise to 113 degrees.
Hammond suggests situational awareness to keep hot car deaths from happening accidentally.
He knows that children sneak away from even the most alert parents but said added caution is more important during the summer months. In this area, according to Hammond, the danger of exposure to the elements is greater in summer versus winter because winters are not as extreme here as other places.
“It’s a good practice to lock a car when it’s not in use. That way you don’t have a small child crawl in it to play,” he said. “Try to know where your children are at all times.”
North Carolina is 6th in the US for deaths from children being left in hot cars since 1991 with 32 deaths between 1991 and 2016, according to kidsandcars.org. Texas ranks first with 113.
Currently only 19 states have laws on the books that make leaving a child in a hot car illegal. North Carolina and South Carolina are not among them.
In recent years, several states have added clauses to Good Samaritan laws that protect people who break into cars to rescue children or pets trapped there.
North Carolina has a Good Samaritan laws but they largely apply to bystanders who step in to give life saving measures to accident victims or someone who has fallen ill.
North Carolina General Stature 90-21.14 states that a person giving first aid “shall not be liable for damages for injuries alleged to have been sustained by the person or for damages for the death of the person alleged to have occurred by reason of an act or omission in the rendering of the treatment unless it is established that the injuries were or the death was caused by gross negligence, wanton conduct or intentional wrongdoing on the part of the person rendering the treatment. The immunity conferred in this section also applies to any person who uses an automated external defibrillator (AED) and otherwise meets the requirements of this section.”
Goins hopes those laws could be interpreted to protect someone who breaks a car window to rescue a child or pet who is in imminent danger.
WRAL blogger Sarah Hall suggests the following tips to prevent these tragedies:
− Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle − even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running with the air conditioning on.
− Make it part of your everyday routine to account for all children in your care.
Set up backup systems to check and double check that no child is left in the vehicle.
− Always make a habit of looking in the vehicle − front and back − before locking the door and walking away.
− Get in touch with designated family members if a child who is regularly in your care does not arrive as expected.
− Create reminders to ensure that no child is accidentally left behind in the vehicle.
Place an item that is needed at your final destination, such as your purse or phone or briefcase, in the back of the vehicle next to the child or place a stuffed animal in the driver’s view to indicate that a child is in the car seat.
− Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately if you see a child alone in a hot vehicle.
If he or she is in distress due to heat, get the child out as soon as possible and cool him or her down rapidly.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169