Thirty-two year old Zoraida Magali Conde Hernandez was arrested and charged with child neglect after her eight-month old died because he was left behind in a hot car this month. The temperature in her town reached 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) the day she forgot her baby on the back seat of her car, and found him dead when she returned six hours later.
This story probably sounds as familiar as it does terrible and unbelievable. That is because you've heard it before. Every year, parents leave young children in the car, thinking they already dropped them off at a daycare center or while they are quickly running errands. Every year, an average of 38 children overheat to death in hot cars during the summer in the United States of America alone.
We don't yet know what sentence Hernandez will receive as she faces the court system. What we do know is that she will face a lifetime of guilt, grief and loss as the result of that one careless act. The judgement she'll face through the courts and in society at large is nothing compared to the judgement she will impose on herself for the rest of her life. Her sweet baby is gone.
Dylan Bjorkman, Kate Lola Boe, Tyler Costello, Julian Fuchs, Juan Parks, Christian LaCombe, and Serenity Lyman — these are just some of the names of children of various ages who died because they were left behind in cars that reached high temperatures during the hot summer months.
These children were trapped without a way to call out for help, while their parents didn't have any idea what was happening. Between 1991 and 2011, at least 613 children died from a heat stroke after being left in a vehicle unattended. The average number of vehicular heat-stroke deaths since 1998 is 38, or one every nine days.
How Do Children Die In Hot Cars?
Did you know that a child's body temperature rises between three and five times faster than an adult's? The temperature in a parked car can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit within minutes. Leaving the car windows partially opened does not prevent the vehicle from becoming this hot. Older children are not exempt either — while almost a third of hyperthermia deaths happened to children below a year of age, the rest occurred in older children.
Nearly 12 percent of hyperthermia deaths in vehicles happened after a parent knowingly left a child in their car. In the rest of cases, the child either got into the car by themselves without the parent's awareness (32 percent) or the parent forgot the child in the car (54 percent).
As you can see, most of these tragic deaths happen because a child was forgotten in the car — often because a parent “was sure” they had dropped the child off but didn't. Most parents think this could never happen to them, but statistics tell a different story. They give us a painful reminder that human memory is not always reliable. The parents who forget a child in a hot car weren't monsters trying to dispose of their children in a cruel way. They were you and me, on a busy day after they didn't get enough sleep.
Sleeping, quiet children don't remind us of their presence. The Kids And Cars campaign group has been fighting to raise awareness of the dangers of leaving children in cars, either because you think those few minutes can't possibly pose a danger or because life got too busy for you to remember your sleeping little one for a moment.
Preventing Vehicular Heat Stroke Deaths
Don't allow your child to become one of the 38 who will become a victim of these fatal mistakes, and make sure you have the following safety measures in place:
Never knowingly leave a child in a car unattended — not even for one minute, not even with the window open, and not even if the car is within your view the entire time. These tragedies strike fast.
“Look before you lock” — always open the back door of your car to look inside, even if you think your kids are not with you. It may be helpful to place something you need on the back seat, like your handbag, cellphone, documents and so on.
Place a large toy in your child's car seat whenever it is not occupied. Place the toy in the front seat while a child is in it, so you remember your child is in your car.
Get your child's daycare center or babysitter to call you whenever your child was not dropped off.
If you ever see someone else's child in the back of a car, do not assume everything is OK. Call 911, and break into the car if the child is displaying signs of illness. You could well be saving a life.