Leaving a child alone in the car is dangerous, especially if they are left alone in hot weather like the Rio Grande Valley has in the summer time.
A day before the official start of summer, Yvette Vela, the Cameron County District Attorney’s public information officer, demonstrated how unbearable it can be being locked inside a hot car in the middle of June.
She lasted 20 minutes inside the car with no air conditioning while the car reached 101 degrees inside.
Police, Cameron County District Attorney’s Office and Valley Baptist Health System want to inform the public on how dangerous it is to leave children or even a pet or an elderly person locked inside a car with no air conditioning with their Beat the Heat campaign.
“Especially this time of year, these are hazards that we see, unfortunately they repeat themselves. Seems like every year, and this doesn’t only go on nationwide, worldwide, but it’s actually happened here in the Valley,” Brownsville Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez said.
District Attorney Luis Saenz said his office started planning the demonstration about three weeks ago and, during that time, three children have died from being left inside a car near San Antonio.
“Urging all parents, providers, baby sitters (or) whoever is in charge of children and elderly and pets to please be very cognizant of the fact that being left in a hot car can spell death and in fact does spell death,” Saenz said.
“Talking to the doctors in the past about this sort of tragedy, the first thing the doctors tell me is, ‘Luis, to suffer death is bad enough, but to suffer death as a result of heat is like torture.’”
Saenz said doctors have told him a baby can start dehydrating, start shaking, convulse and the brain can start shutting down if left inside a hot vehicle.
“If anybody in the public sees a car with the windows up and you see a child, you see an elderly person, you see a pet, break the window,” Saenz said. “The (police) chief and I won’t come after you, please, this is the one time that we will applaud you instead of arrest you.”
Dr. Kazim Hussain, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville’s emergency medicine chief, said a baby’s internal water reserve is very minimal, causing them to dehydrate a lot faster.
Dying from extreme heat is known as death by hyperthermia.
“This innocent population is really fragile, and any time when in this kind of heat if a baby is left there, even for a few minutes, the temperature can reach up to 105, and that’s what the definition of heat stroke is, when the body core temperature goes to 105,” Hussain said.
“The skin becomes red and they start getting drowsy, dizzy, and then after that they can even seize or become unconscious and confused.”
When removing a child, an elderly person or a pet from the car, Hussain advises only to give them water if they are conscious. Giving water to an unconscious person can cause the water to go into the lungs and aspirate.
“We have seen cases in the past where children playing hide and seek will climb into a parked car, hide under the blanket and there you go,” Rodriguez said.
“Fortunately, the one case that stands out in my mind was during the winter time, but it would have been tragic in the summer because the child got into the car, covered himself with a blanket and no one can find him.”
Rodriguez said there have been some cases in Brownsville in which a child has been left in a car outside, but none of the cases have led to deaths.
Parents who leave their child in a car can be charged with child endangerment, and the charge can escalate if the child dies from hyperthermia.
“When you put somebody in a situation that endangers their safety, that is a criminal offense,” Rodriguez said.