Along with buckets of humidity, East Texas summer heat remains as brutal, and deadly, as ever.
On 100-degree days, the inside of a locked car can easily turn into a furnace, with temperatures rising to a scorching 150 degrees in little more than an hour, endangering children, pets, and even adults.
Since 2010, more than 350 children have died nationwide after they were left unattended in a vehicle. Texas accounts for 63, or nearly 17.5 percent, of those deaths. Last year, the nation reported 52 deaths of children left unattended in a vehicle – the most in more than a decade.
Texas heat is undoubtedly one reason the state ranks No. 1 for children dying unattended in vehicles, but raising awareness could reduce deaths dramatically, experts say.
New technologies are taking aim at the problem but are still no substitute for education and vigilance.
Experts suggest placing a necessary item, such as a purse, phone, or briefcase, in the backseat with the child as a reminder. Placards to hang from the rearview mirror, alerting drivers to check the car before leaving, also are available for purchase online and in some stores.
More than anything, however, experts urge everyone to pay attention. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911 immediately, even if the child appears fine. This quick, simple action might save a life.
In the most recent case in Texas, an 18-month old Galveston boy was left in the car at 11 a.m. on June 22, while his father went to work at a local restaurant. Five hours later the father returned to the car to find his son unresponsive. The boy was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The father, officials said, simply forgot his son was there. No charges have been filed, but the case remains under investigation.
Leaving a child unattended in a vehicle is illegal.
“Leaving a child under seven years old unattended for over five minutes is against the law,” Assistant Police Chief Mark Harcrow said Tuesday. “Also, any child under 14 cannot be left in a vehicle without adult supervision. This is a class 'C' misdemeanor. Of course, if the child is injured or worse, the charges will be more significant.”
Local nurse Amanda Stampley said heat illness and dehydration are especially painful ways to die. The body sweats profusely and quickly experiences muscle cramps.
Nausea and vomiting, due to dehydration, might occur and further dehydrate the body. Other symptoms include acute headaches and hallucinations. Eventually, the body will exhaust its fluids and stop sweating.
“It's almost like boiling an egg,” Stampley told the Herald-Press. “The heat cooks you from inside-out.”
Negligent behavior isn't always to blame. Children can, unknowingly, lock themselves in, which occurs in more than 29 percent of the cases; more than 50 percent of child deaths stem from parents or caregivers forgetting children were there.
In these cases, experts cite “forgotten baby syndrome,” or the “semantic memory” that enables a person to drive home, seemingly on autopilot. Stress, fatigue, and distraction also aggravate memory lapses.
Some automotive companies have added features that alert drivers to check for forgotten passengers.
A carbon-dioxide detector called “Payton’s Charm,” in memory of a Florida girl who died in 2010 in a hot car, measures when a person or pet is exhaling within the car. The driver is then alerted via smartphone.
Payton's Charm is newly patented and still hard to find. Part of a “Kickstarter” campaign, the unit is estimated to cost roughly $350.