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'Check the back seat': Tips to avoid hot car deaths

Heat stroke can kill your child in a car

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Mississippi ranks 16th nationwide in the number of children's heatstroke deaths from being left in a vehicle, according to a child safety group.

With temperatures rising, parents should take heed of precautions to avoid leaving their children in vehicles, said Amber Rollins, director of KidsAndCars.org.

The latest child heatstroke death in Mississippi was an 8-month-old girl in Grenada on May 19, whose father left her in a car seat in his car's back seat when he went to work. Less than 10 days earlier, a 2-year-old died May 11 in Gluckstadt. Her mother went to pick her up at a daycare after work and realized she'd never dropped off the child, Rollins said.

Rollins' organization tracks hot car deaths of children and works to give parents tips to reduce the loss of young lives.

Tips to help

Parents can get in the habit of opening the back car door and checking every time they get in and out of the vehicle, she said.

But one of the group's biggest tips is to put something you need to carry with you in the backseat. Your employee badge, key card, purse, cellphone or wallet.

"Even your left shoe," Rollins said. "Nobody's going in to work or a store with one shoe off. It's a way to make sure you check the back seat."

Parents of small children also can bring a stuffed animal to the car and put it in the front seat.

"It serves as a visual reminder that your baby's in the back," Rollins said.

Six died in southern counties

Hot car deaths around the state since 1995 include three in Jackson County, two in Forrest County and one in Harrison County, the group's statistics show.

The most recent one in South Mississippi involved the death of a 3-year-old near the Stone-Forrest county line in 2013. Officials said the child disappeared and was found dead in a hot car.

Southern states such as Mississippi are more vulnerable for hot car deaths because of the temperature, Rollins said.

When people hear a child has died of a heat stroke in a vehicle, the typical response is "it's a bad parent," she said.

"The most important thing for parents to understand is this could happen to anybody," she said. "It's not a matter of neglect, drugs or alcohol."

"After working with families for 11 years, I can see this happens to the most wonderful, educated, loving, doting parents."

Stress contributes

The most common situation she sees is a parent forgetting to drop a child off at daycare.

"Some of the contributing things are stress," Rollins said.

"New parents in particular. They're not getting enough sleep, they're fatigued. When we are tired, our brains function on autopilot.

"How many times have you driven to work and gotten there and think, 'oh, my gosh, I don't even remember getting here?'"

New parents who work have established a routine that the brain remembers, she said.

"It has to become a new habit to check for a baby or child in the car," Rollins said.

New parents can ask their babysitter or daycare to call them if their child hasn't arrived, she said.

Other advice includes keeping vehicles locked while they're parked so children can't get it them.

If you don't keep your car locked and your child disappears, check your car and trunk first, she said.

On a sunny day with a 70-degree temperature, the temperature in a car reaches 104 degrees within 30 minutes. In an hour, it reaches 113 degrees, according to The Weather Network.

If the temperature outside is 100 degrees, the temperature in a car parked in sunlight can quickly rise to 130 degrees to 172 degrees.

So what do you do if see a child alone in a car?

Call 911, she said. Get the child out of the car and dampen the child with cool water until help arrives.

The group's statistics show child vehicular heat stroke deaths have decreased nationwide in recent years. There were 25 last year, compared with 32 in 2014.

In 2013, 44 children died in hot cars.

While the decrease is good, it shouldn't happen to any child, Rollins said.

"We hope people will listen to our life-saving information and share it with others," she said.

"It could save a child's life."

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