Tifton Gazette

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June 19, 2014

12 deaths so far this year due to vehicular heat stroke

TIFTON — A Marietta man has been charged with murder after leaving his 22-month-old son in an SUV, and the case has had people all over Georgia talking.

Justin Ross Harris, 33, was also charged with cruelty to children in the first degree. According to the arrest report, the child was left unattended and strapped in a child car seat in a parked vehicle for seven hours Wednesday. Harris was arrested Thursday.

An autopsy will be performed on the child by the Cobb County Medical Examiner's Office to determine the cause of death.

According to www.kidsandcars.org, an average of 38 children die in cars each year from heat-related deaths. The site states that 12 children have died so far this year, and 44 died last year from vehicular heat stroke.

Infants and young children can experience heat stroke in a matter of minutes, as they are more sensitive to extreme heat. Dr. Martin Eichelberger, director of trauma surgery at Children’s National Medical Center and president of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign says, "Heat rapidly overwhelms the body’s ability to regulate temperature. In a closed environment, the body can go into shock and circulation to vital organs will begin to fail."

Heat exhaustion can take place at temperatures above 90 degrees, and heat stroke can occur when temperatures rise above 105 degrees. When a child is left in a hot car, his body loses fluids and salts through sweating, which leads to heat exhaustion. In heat stroke, a child can no longer sweat. The body temperature rises to deadly levels, leading to severe damage to the brain, liver, kidneys and even death.

When the outside temperature is 93 degrees, the temperatures inside a car can reach 125 degrees in just 20 minutes and 140 degrees in 40 minutes, even if a window is cracked open. A car parked in direct sunlight can reach 131 to 172 degrees, even after only 15 minutes. At that temperature, it only takes a matter of minutes for children to die or suffer permanent disability, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

To make sure your children are safe, remember these tips from www.parenthood.com:

• Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the window open.

• Lock car doors and trunks – even at home – and keep the keys out of children's reach.

• Watch children around vehicles when you are loading and unloading items from the car.

• Make sure all children leave the vehicle when you reach your destination.

• If your car has been parked in the hot sun, check to see if the car seat and seat buckles are hot before securing your child in the seat or car seat.

To contact editor Angye Morrison, call 382-4321.

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