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Danger too great to leave children unattended in cars

Jul. 20, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

A 9-year-old boy in West Virginia was lucky this week. If not for an alert passerby, it's possible he could have joined the list of children who die as the result of being left in a car in sweltering heat.

The boy was in a locked car in a shopping center near Wheeling. A shopper noticed him, alerted an Ohio County sheriff's deputy, and the boy was rescued. He had been in the car for about 20 minutes in temperatures of nearly 90 degrees. His father was charged with child neglect with risk of creating injury.

Unfortunately, not all children left in such circumstances survive.

So far this year, more than 20 children unattended in vehicles have died in the United States from confirmed or suspected heatstroke, a pace slightly ahead of the 33 who died from such situations in 2012.

A study of 561 such fatalities from 1998 through 2012 by the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University found that more than half of the victims had simply been forgotten in vehicles by their caregivers. About 30 percent involved children who were playing in unattended vehicles, while nearly a fifth resulted from caregivers intentionally leaving their children in vehicles.

The study also showed that such deaths can occur even when temperatures are relatively mild, at about 70 degrees, because heat in a closed-up car can reach life-threatening temperatures very rapidly. Of course, with temperatures in the 90s as they have been this week, the threat becomes even greater.

The message to caregivers is simple: Always check your vehicles before leaving it to make sure you don't "forget" a child; never leave your child in a locked vehicle intentionally; and once you've assured yourself that no child has been left in a vehicle, lock it so a child can't get inside.

Otherwise, you risk being a party to a senseless death.

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