By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: May 31, 2018 | 2:20 p.m.
VIRGINIA – Over the last few weeks, temperatures have begun to soar across Central and Southside Virginia as the summer season approaches and, with those increased temperatures, so too has the risks of injuries or worse due to the warm weather and there was a tragic real-world example of this in the neighboring community of Chesterfield County.
According to a statement from Chesterfield County Police, two five-month-old children died after being found unresponsive inside a vehicle along Alfalfa Lane, just off U.S. Route 1, Jefferson Davis Highway near the county’s border with the City of Richmond on May 10. Fire and EMS crews responded to the scene minutes after the children were discovered inside the vehicle and they were rushed to nearby Chippenham Hospital.
Tragically, one of the children was pronounced dead upon arrival to the emergency room while the second infant died later that Thursday, leaving a family and community in mourning.
Chesterfield Police said in a statement that they are continuing to investigate the incident.
On that day, temperatures reached the upper 80s across much of the region, meaning temperatures inside vehicles can reach dangerous levels quickly, something that the National Weather Service and local law enforcement try to remind people of on a yearly basis to prevent tragedies like this from happening to another family.
While the deaths in Chesterfield remain under investigation, according to data from the National Weather Service, in 2017, 42 children died in the United States from heat strokes, or hyperthermia, where the body absorbs more heat than it can handle. Dating back to 1998, San Jose State University reports over 720 children have died from heat strokes, averaging out to a troubling 40 children a year.
“Studies have shown that the temperature inside a parked vehicle can rapidly rise to a dangerous level for children, pets, and even adults,” officials with the National Weather Service said. “Leaving the windows slightly open does not significantly decrease the heating rate. The younger the child the more severe the effects because their bodies have not developed the ability to efficiently regulate its internal temperature.”
Using an animation to display how quickly a car can heat on a warm day, on a day with an 80-degree outdoor temperature, the temperature inside the car can soar to nearly 100 degrees within ten minutes. After 20 minutes, that temperature rises to almost 110 degrees.
Forty minutes with the same 80-degree outdoor temperature sees the interior temperature of the car rise to almost 120 degrees and, after an hour, temperatures inside the vehicle are estimated to be nearly 125 degrees.
“The sun’s shortwave radiation heats objects that it strikes,” NWS officials explained. “For example, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180 to over 200°F. These objects heat the adjacent air by conduction and convection and also give off longwave radiation, which is very efficient at warming the air trapped inside a vehicle.”
Officials warned that, even in cooler months, the risk of health impacts from the heat inside a vehicle remains present.
“Heatstroke can occur in temperatures as low as 57 degrees,” officials said. “On an 80-degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in just ten minutes.”
News of the deaths in Chesterfield struck a chord locally as area law enforcement offered their condolences to those impacted by the tragic deaths.
“Our thoughts and everything goes out to the family that was involved,” Prince George Police Public Information Officer Alexis Grochmal said. “I can’t even imagine having a child pass away in those types of circumstances when it was preventable.”
She added that the department, as the summer season gets closer, is working to drive the message home to area residents that is not safe to leave anyone in a hot car, including pets, due to the risks to their health as temperatures soar inside and outside of the vehicle.
“We really want to make sure we get that message out there that you shouldn’t leave anyone in a vehicle unattended,” Grochmal remarked.
In some cases, a parent has forgotten to drop a child off at school or daycare while thinking they actually had, leading to tragedy. In those situations, the National Weather Service as offered their own suggestions to parents and caregivers.
“Place a briefcase, purse, or cell phone next to the child’s car seat so that you’ll always check the back seat before leaving the car,” they said. “Call your spouse or another caregiver to confirm you’ve dropped your child off, have your child care provider call you if your child doesn’t arrive or write a note and place it on the dashboard of your car, or set a reminder on your cell phone or calendar.”
In the event you see a child or a pet inside a vehicle, Officer Grochmal suggest calling your community’s law enforcement.
“The best thing to do is to give us a call if they are not sure,” she remarked. “We can check the temperature inside the vehicle and also render aid if it does come to that situation.”
In addition, the Code of Virginia does allow for “good Samaritan” actions, where if a child is unresponsive and appears to be in distress, Code Section 8.01-225 allows for “good faith rendering of emergency care or assistance without compensation to any ill or injured person,” including “emergency care or assistance includes the forcible entry of a motor vehicle in order to remove an unattended minor at risk of serious bodily injury or death, provided the person has attempted to contact a law-enforcement officer, a firefighter, emergency medical services personnel, or an emergency 911 system, if feasible under the circumstances.”