NEWBERRY COUNTY — Every year when the summer temperatures start climbing, infants and children run the risk of becoming a statistic as one of 37 who are expected to die of heat stroke after being left in a hot car.
In 2014, General Motors released an animation showing how quickly the interior of a vehicle can heat up when it is not running: With an outside temperature of 80 F, the vehicle’s internal temperature increased to 99 F in 10 minutes, to 109 F in 20 minutes and to 114 F after 30 minutes.
After an hour, the vehicle’s internal temperature increased to 123 F.
Police Chief Roy McClurkin said some people leave their child, an elderly person or a pet in a vehicle because they don’t plan to be gone very long. But, he pointed out, you never know what is going to happen once you go in a store.
“The thing we can tell residents is they know how hot it is and they know how hot their car is once they come out of a store and they get in it,” McClurkin said. “Use common sense and know the temperature is real hot and it gets real hot inside a car quickly.”
While most think taking a child out of a vehicle is common sense, a change in routine, stress or simply forgetting can lead to a sleeping baby being left behind. Some drivers have said they left their child in the vehicle because they thought they would be right back.
But once someone reaches the point of heatstroke — especially a child or an elderly person — it can be deadly.
“Heat exposure is a continuum, basically from being overheated, to heat exhaustion to heatstroke,” said Dr. Bruce Bourdon with Newberry County Memorial Hospital.
McClurkin said drivers should check the inside of the vehicle before locking the doors and leaving.
“I know it is kind of odd to say, but check the inside of your car to make sure you are not leaving somebody in there,” McClurkin said. “People do get busy and they do, on the way traveling to locations, get frustrated with traffic and are not thinking properly. But just before you get out of your car, scan the inside of your car and look just to make sure you are not leaving anyone inside your vehicle.”
So let’s suppose you’re on your way into a store after parking and as you pass a vehicle, something catches your eye. When you look closer, you realize it’s an infant, still strapped in his or her car seat. What should you do?
McClurkin said the first thing would be to call 911 immediately. The same holds true if you are the parent who discovers you left the child in the vehicle.
“Call us right away. We are bound by our duties to render first aid to anybody in distress, and that is a classic situation of somebody being in distress and we are going to get in the car any way we can, as quick as we can,” McClurkin said.
The fire department has tools to get inside any vehicle, so anytime a call comes in of a child locked in a car, both agencies are dispatched. However, city officers and deputies with the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office also have tools to get into a vehicle.
Both Sheriff Lee Foster and McClurkin said it is rare to receive a call of a child left in a hot car in Newberry County, but when it does happen, they are ready to act.
“If we were on patrol and say we were riding through business parking lots, and we see a parent leave a child in a car, we would stop them and tell them that is improper and do not do that,” said Foster. “The law of leaving a child in a car falls under Child Abuse and Neglect Statute or Unlawful Conduct of a Child, any act that puts a child in immediate danger for health and well being.”
Foster said an individual who leaves a child in a hot vehicle intentionally would be charged and the child would be placed in emergency custody with the Department of Social Services.
“We do get calls periodically that a parent accidentally locked the keys in car, or the child locked themselves in the car. We go and unlock the car and there is no penalty for that,” he said.
He added that leaving a child in a running vehicle with the air on is also not a good idea due to the possibility of the child turning the car off, turning the air off or even putting the car in drive.
So what if you do find a child locked in a hot car, and after calling 911, feel the child is in imminent danger?
Foster said making entry to a locked vehicle in this instance would fall under the Good Samaritan Act, which covers assisting another person who is in imminent danger of losing life or limb.
“Residents will not get into trouble if they break into a car to rescue a child although we ask they call us and let us take care of it because we are trained on how to do that type thing (get into a locked car),” he said. “We have a quick response in the City of Newberry, so we will get there no matter what, quickly.”
Consumer Report recently released some tips to help drivers remember they have a child in the back seat. They suggest the following:
• Set up cell phone reminders
• Check the car to make sure that all occupants leave the vehicle or are carried out when unloading
• Lock the car with a key, rather than a remote, which will force that one last look in the car
• Keep keys and remotes away from children
• Keep a stuffed animal on the front passenger seat when carrying a child in the backseat
• Place something in the backseat that you would need, such as a purse, briefcase or cell phone
• Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up.
Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @ TheNBOnews.