Thirty-eight children on average have died from being left in hot cars in the past 14 years in the United States, but none have shocked the nation more than the death of a 22-month-old in Marietta, Georgia.
Justin Ross Harris awaits trial for charges, including first-degree murder, and could face between 30 years in prison and the death penalty.
Lisa Mayhew is the Child Death Investigator and Trainer for the North Carolina Medical Examiner and State Child Fatality Prevention Team. She says all the attention this case has garnered presents prime opportunities to inform people of the dangers of leaving children in their vehicles on a hot day.
“It’s a similar situation to, like, the Safe Surrender Law,” Mayhew says. “Whenever we have an incident of an abandoned baby or an infant that comes in, then it stems a little bit more press towards that particular topic.”
The Safe Surrender Law says an overwhelmed parent can give its baby (up to seven days old) to an adult and walk away, no questions asked.
North Carolina has averaged just one hyperthermic death among children per year in the past four years. Three occurred in 2008—two in 2006.
However, the topic was brought closer to home Tuesday when news of a one-month-old’s death in Statesville. The parents, Sherrie Tiesha Clay and Shakee Duquan Robinson, both 29 years old, were arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony child abuse. The child died after being left in the car for two hours.
A petition addressed to President Barack Obama was started on July 14 titled “Prevent Child Heat Stroke Deaths in Vehicles.” The petition asks for increased funding for research and funding for new technologies.
Mayhew says, before any new technologies are created to help combat this problem, there are safety tips that can help this issue without needing a fancy gadget.
“There’s a phrase, ‘look before you lock’,” Mayhew says. “So, getting people in the habit of checking their back seat. Putting your purse, your keys, or, more importantly, your cell phone in the back seat.”
And, she says that last one could be mutually beneficial.
“Then you can, kind of, get people away from using their cell phones in the front seat,” Mayhew says.
She says you can also have a system in place that would essentially check behind you if you don’t follow your normal routine.
“If your child does not show up for daycare at a certain time or at a predetermined time each morning, then there’s a policy in place that daycares would automatically phone both parents,” Mayhew says.
As of Thursday, about 9,300 people signed the petition to President Obama. The signature total needs to reach 100,000 by August 13 to be seen by the President.
The Washington Post: Between 17 and 21 Child Deaths This Year