April 30, 2014

The baby in the car

Two children in the U.S. have died this year from being left in a hot car. Yesterday I saw it almost happen at my local grocery store. And I'm still shaken.

I went to the store for a handful of items. As I was walking to my car, I noticed two women and a bagger circling a parked car. They seem very concerned.

My first thought was that someone had left a dog in the car, which made me feel sad and angry. I pushed the cart to my car and loaded my bags in the back. Then I looked again.

The women were visibly becoming frantic. I got a terrible feeling and rushed over to them.

"Is there a baby in that car?" I asked.

There was.

Disbelief. Panic. Rage. All of this and more began to surge through me.

The women were both on their phones. I asked if they were on with 911 operators. They said yes. I asked if they knew how far out the police or EMT units were. They did not.

I peered in and saw a baby girl I would estimate to be between four and six months old. She was strapped into her rear-facing car seat with a bottle tucked beside her. She was visibly flushed and covered with perspiration.

At not quite 11AM, the day well on its way to reaching the expected high of 90 degrees. I was sweating just standing there.

One of the women told me it had been close to 15 minutes since she discovered the infant. Passing by, she had heard the baby crying.

She wasn't crying anymore. In fact, she appeared to be extremely lethargic. Drowsy. Having difficulty keeping her eyes open.

I believed we had to get in to the car right away or we were going to watch that baby die. I took a photo with my phone of the license plate and ran toward the store. A man stopped me and asked if there was a baby in the car. I told him there was. He said he had a crowbar in his trunk, and I asked him to get it.

Inside the store, I thrust my phone at an employee at the customer service desk, pointed at the photo and implored her to page the owner. I told her there was a baby locked in the car. She called the manager over before picking up the phone, and he asked me to show him where the car was so he could help.

By the time we rushed outside there was a crowd watching the scene unfold. The police and fire department had arrived. And the driver had returned to her car. She had a grocery cart full of bags, with a toddler strapped in the seat.

I had assumed it was a case of someone forgetting the baby was in the car. But how had she taken one child in with her and left the other in the car?

There is no way for me to know; nor would it be fair of me to make assumptions. And I try very hard not to pass judgment. But I can't stop wondering if she has any idea how dangerous the situation was.

She did not appear to be the least bit upset or concerned. In fact, she displayed no visible emotion at all, other than to appear annoyed by the situation. She put her groceries in the trunk of her car. Strapped the toddler into a car seat in the back, right next to the infant's. And then just stood there, seeming almost impatient. Perhaps she was in shock. I could not say what was going through her mind.

As the fire crew attended to the baby, the police took witness statements from the two women who had called 911. They encouraged the rest of us to disperse.

I was too shaken up to drive home right away. I took a photo of the scene, sat in my parked car and posted it to Facebook, along with my emotional reaction to the morning's events. My husband saw my post and suggested I contact the local news stations. He felt certain they would cover the story, and said it could serve as an important reminder as we head into the hottest months of the year.

I agreed, and sent an email with my photo to the top stations. As hubby had suspected, they jumped on it, responding immediately and asking if I would speak to reporters to provide more info. The story appeared on all the local news outlet's websites, and two TV stations.

According to their reports the woman, "was written a uniform traffic citation for leaving a child in a vehicle, which has a mandatory court appearance." The baby was OK.

The average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year is 38. That is one death every nine days. More than half of those deaths are children under the age of two. In 2013, 44 children died of heatstroke from being left in a vehicle. (Source: http://www.kidsandcars.org/)

The state of Florida has the second highest rate of child vehicular heatstroke fatalities in the nation.

Here are some helpful tips to make sure you don't ever leave your child(ren) unattended in the car. I particularly like the stuffed animal idea:

Just as important, be alert and aware when you are in parking lots. And do not be afraid to check out something that seems strange or suspicious.

If those women had not responded, I hate to think of what could have happened. I know I would have walked to my car, loaded my groceries and driven home without having any idea there was a baby trapped in a car. And it is very possible I would have read about her death online. I consider them to be heroes.

As the hot summer months approach, please help spread awareness so we can work to make 2014 a less deadly one for children.

A baby dying from being left in a car is senseless, tragic, and 100% avoidable.

Update: I just came across this report that 23% of parents with children under three admit they have left their children in the car alone. For me personally, it is not worth the risk. There are many things that could happen; heatstroke is only one of them. What do you think? Is it ever OK to leave a small child in a car alone, and if so, under what circumstances would you do so?

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