Hot car deaths 2022: What we can learn from annual summer tragedies – USA TODAY

While the public has little sympathy for parents who leave their children in hot cars, experts reiterate that it can happen to anybody

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Amber Rollins had a slight disruption in her daily routine, one that could have meant life or death.

Instead of going straight to her 3-year-old son’s daycare one morning two years ago, she had to take her stepdaughter’s friend home following a sleepover.

After dropping the friend off, Rollins headed straight to work. 

It was only when Renley made a loud noise that she remembered the toddler was with her. 

“I just slammed on the breaks and sobbed,” said the 36-year-old Rollins, who lives in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe. 

What’s particularly remarkable about Rollins’ experience is that she’s dedicated most of her professional career to ending hot car deaths among children as the spokeswoman for Kids and Car Safety.

“I had been telling people for 10 years, ‘This could happen to you. It can happen to anybody,'” Rollins said this week. “It wasn’t until that morning that I knew it could happen to me.” 

That understanding – that just about anyone can make such a horrible mistake – has been an uphill battle when it comes to spreading awareness about the problem, Rollins said. 

“People think that there’s just absolutely no way under any condition that this could happen, that someone could actually unknowingly leave their child in their car,” she said. “They think, ‘This must be a monster.'”

Hot car deaths declined during the pandemic but experts fear they’ll return to the record levels of more than 50 deaths annually in 2018 and 2019.

In hopes of spreading awareness about the problem and how people are still leaving children in hot cars, USA Today has compiled details in the six hot car deaths we’ve confirmed this year.. 

While activists and lawmakers are working on requiring car companies to integrate technology to prevent hot car deaths, a permanent solution could still take years. In the meantime, Rollins said it’s up to parents and caregivers to make sure they never make the worst mistake of their lives.

JUNE 26, 2022

What happened: A Georgia grandmother took her 3-year-old grandson and his three sisters to church and then to Wendy’s before returning home on Sunday. She realized the boy was missing nearly three hours later, and he was found soon after still strapped in his car seat, Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan told ABC News.

How it happened: The boy’s grandmother didn’t realize he was left in the car.

The result: It’s unclear whether the case will be forwarded to prosecutors for consideration of charges. 

The takeaway: “It sounds kind of silly but do a roll call,” Rollins said. “Anytime you’ve got multiple children there’s always chaos. Someone’s throwing a fit, something is getting spilled, there’s so much going on.”

So often with multiple children where there are older siblings, an adult assumes they all piled out together. “By the time they realize the baby’s not sleeping in the house it’s too late. Look before you lock,” Rollins adds.

JUNE 20, 2022

What happened: A 5-year-old boy died in the Houston area after being left in the car by his mother after she took him and his 8-year-old sister shopping before the girl’s birthday party. Two to three hours after arriving home on the day that topped 100 degrees, the mother began looking for the boy, eventually finding him buckled inside the car and unresponsive. She called 911 and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

How it happened: The boy’s mother said she thought both kids got out of the car on their own.

The result?: Investigators said they would meet with the district attorney’s office to present their findings.

The takeaway: This case is a prime example of a parent not in a routine and distracted by the logistics and excitement of a birthday party. One of Rollins’ biggest tips is for parents to create a visual reminder in the front seat that their young child is in the back.

“Put the diaper bag in the front seat.” Even better, parents can keep a stuffed animal in the back seat and every time they put their child in the back, they can bring the stuffed animal to the front. “Do it every time and there’s much less chance that this could happen to you,” Rollins said. 

JUNE 16, 2022

What happened:  A 3-month-old baby was left in his father’s minivan in suburban Pittsburgh. Police have said very little about the case.

How it happened: Police have not said. 

Was anyone punished: Police say detectives were “working to confirm the timeline of events through surveillance video in the area. They are also downloading and reviewing data from the vehicle’s on board computer.” The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office will decide whether charges are appropriate.

The takeaway: So far police haven’t released enough details to identify tips to avoid what happened in this case. They declined to answer further questions from USA Today.

MAY 20, 2022

What happened: A woman left her 10-month-old daughter in her car seat inside her car for several hours just outside of Houston in Pearland. When she remembered the girl was there, she returned to the car and found her unresponsive. The girl was pronounced dead at a hospital soon after the mother took her there.

How it happened: Police have not said how the woman came to leave her daughter in the car.

The result: Police said the case would be referred to a grand jury.

The takeaway: So far police haven’t released enough details to identify tips to avoid what happened in this case. 

MAY 19, 2022

What happened: A daycare worker who picked up 1-year-old Carson Flowers in Memphis and took him to the facility left him in the vehicle for more than six hours. He was rushed to a hospital in critical condition before dying. 

How it happened: Police say the daycare worker said she accidentally left the baby in the car. They briefly detained her and another daycare worker for questioning.

The result: The daycare, Education is the Key Children’s Center, is now closed. Prosecutors are considering whether to file charges.

The takeaway: In a statement, Carson’s family said that “things like this happen every summer, locally, nationally, and this year it hit close home. Moving forward, we ask all daycares, to please, please, please check your vehicles/backseats, to ensure that every child makes it back home to their loving families and are able to have a fair chance at life. We hope that Carson’s passing is a wake-up call, for daycares to tighten up on their pickup and drop-offs system!”

MAY 3, 2022

What happened: Davied Whatley left his 8-month-old daughter, Nova Grace Whatley-Trejo, in his car as he went to the local police department in Snellville, Georgia to retrieve some guns that officers had previously taken from him. Police ran a background check, found a warrant for a misdemeanor probation violation and arrested Whatley.

How it happened: Police say Whatley, 20, never mentioned leaving his daughter in the car while he was booked and processed in jail. The child’s grandmother, Leticia Padilla, told WSB-TV that Whatley told police Nova was in the car but they didn’t believe him. Snellville Detective Jeff Manley said at a news conference that he believes Whatley told the grandmother about the baby “sometime later” in the day and that she found Nova up to eight hours after she was left in the car. 

The result: Whatley has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and has a bond hearing set for June 30. His defense attorney, Stacy Levy, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

What’s the takeaway: “There’s never a safe amount of time to leave a child in a hot car,” Rollins said. Even five minutes is too long.

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