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Brown Co. Sheriff warns against child vehicular heatstroke

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 4:34 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - With temperatures on the rise and children out of school, residents should be aware of children being left unattended in vehicles and the perils they could be in.

Brown Co. Sheriff John Merchant says one child’s death is too many when it comes to the preventable tragedy of leaving a child unattended in a hot car. A few years ago, he said he attended a safety conference and spoke with a mother that lost her child due to heatstroke. He said she was only in the store for a moment and when she came out, her child had perished due to the high temperatures that had escalated in a metal car on a sunny day. He said the mother now speaks regularly at conferences to warn parents against the dangers of the mistake she made that has turned her life around.

Now, Sheriff Merchant said with COVID-19 precautions, there is a higher concern regarding small children left unattended in vehicles. He said parents feel that if they leave the vehicle running with the air conditioner on or the windows open, that this will keep them safe. He said he is sorry to say that is not the case. He said if the engine quits, temperatures could soar in mere minutes in direct sun. The best-case scenario he said would be to make sure to have an adult or family member supervise children or make sure to leave them with a qualified caregiver or family member.

By statistic, Merchant said a child dies from heatstroke once every 10 days from being left alone in a hot vehicle. He said heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash-related vehicle fatalities for children under the age of 15.

According to Merchant, vehicle heatstroke happens when a child is left in a hot vehicle, allowing the child’s temperature to rise in a quick and deadly manner.

Merchant said the inside of vehicles heats up incredibly quickly, even when windows are cracked. He said the temperature of the inside of a car can reach up to 125 degrees in just a few minutes. Cracking windows does not help to slow the heating process or decrease the temperature inside the vehicle. He said 80% of the increase in temperature happens in the first 10 minutes of the car being parked. Children have died from heatstroke in cars with temperatures as low as 60 degrees.

According to the Sheriff, a child’s body absorbs more heat than an adult’s does. Just because we cannot feel the effects of heat, does not mean that children are okay. He said high body temperatures can cause permanent injury to a child or even death.

Merchant said that 54% of child death heatstroke were caused when caregivers forgot the child was in the car. He said 27% happen when the kid enters the vehicle by themselves and 18% happen when a child is intentionally left in a car. He said children that have died from vehicular heatstroke range from 5-days-old to 14-years-old and over half of the deaths are in children under 2.

According to Merchant, signs of heatstroke include red, hot and moist or dry skin, no sweating, a strong rapid pulse or slow weak pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, grouchiness or acting strangely.

Merchant said he is asking the public for help in preventing these kinds of fatalities. He said to be aware when in parking lots, garages or anywhere vehicles may be parked. He said pets are just as susceptible to heat as small children.

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