The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 24, 2013

Police remind parents about dangers of leaving children unattended in automobiles

BECKLEY — As temperatures hit the 80s this weekend, Beckley police are reminding parents about the dangers of leaving children unattended in cars.

The advocacy group Kids and Cars reported that seven kids died in May after being left unattended in parked vehicles.

“I would recommend never leaving a child in a car, even for a short period of time,” said Beckley Police Department Sgt. Dave Allard. “You see stories across the nation all the time where children left in cars end up dying or suffering brain damage because the temperatures in the car heat up so fast.”

According to information from Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries in children, car temperatures can shoot up 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, even with a rolled-down window, and younger kids’ core body temperatures rise three to five times faster than those of adults.

Beckley pediatrician Dr. Carlos Lucero said he would not advise parents to leave a dog unattended in a car — much less a child.

Lucero said a hot car is especially dangerous for a child under the age of 1.

“Just like dogs, babies breathe faster and lose water faster (than adults and older children),” said Lucero. “We have a thermostat in our brains, but it is not working 100 percent till we’re 18 or 20 months.”

Symptoms and signs of heat stroke can include higher respiration, dry skin, nausea, vomiting, headaches, low blood pressure, dizziness and fainting.

Lucero said hyperthermia should be treated by calling 911 immediately and by cooling the child using cold, moist towels, particularly on the “core,” on the abdomen, chest and back. Fans and air conditioners may also be used, he said.

“Put something cool on the head, too,” he added.

Responsive children should drink cold water immediately, and older children may chew ice chips, said Lucero.

Safe Kids reported that more than half of all children who die annually of heat stroke, or hyperthermia, are left in cars unintentionally by distracted caregivers.

In Jackson County in 2012, police reported that a 3-year-old girl died of hyperthermia in her driveway after church.

She’d ridden with a large group of adults and children who had unintentionally left her in the car, according to authorities.

“The worst thing any parent or caregiver can do is think that this could never happen to them, that they are not capable of inadvertently leaving their child behind,” said Kids and Cars founder Janette Fennell. “This can and does happen to the most loving, responsible and attentive parents.”

According to Allard, police investigate each incident to determine whether charges should be filed against an adult who leaves a child unattended.

“All the circumstances have to be looked at,” he said. “The temperature outside, the temperature of the car, the length of the time the child is left in the car, the age of the child. It definitely could be a crime.”

He emphasized that it’s never safe to intentionally leave a child in a car for any period of time, even during cooler months.

“An older child could knock the car into gear,” he said. “I’ve read several reports around the country where someone has stolen a car and didn’t realize a child was in it.”

Unattended toddlers and older kids may also leave a parked car and wander away.

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