Car temperatures high enough to cause child fatalities

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Reporter - Briana Conner
Photographer - Randall Barnes

PADUCAH, Ky. - Parts of our area are expecting 90 degree temperatures all week long, but as hot as it is outside, it's even hotter inside a car. Every summer, children left in the backseat die of heat-related illnesses. There have been at least 20 deaths in the U.S. since January.

Of our four states, Tennessee has the highest number of deaths due to kids being left in the car. since 1998, 23 kids have lost their lives. During that same time span, Illinois recorded the lowest number of car and heat-related deaths at 13. But many say that number is still too high, because all of these deaths are preventable.

In less than ten minutes, a thermometer climbed from the outside temperature of about 80 degrees all the way up to one hundred. It's something dangerous for adults, but even more so for children. "They don't have the compensation mechanisms to reduce heats like adults do," said Sgt. George Johnson with Paducah Police. He said kids should never be left alone in a car, especially in the summer heat.

"They're in there 20 to 30 minutes, and that may be all it takes for them to become hyperthermic," said Johnson. Hyperthermia, or heat stroke, mostly happens to kids who are one or younger. They're the ones in the car that can be easy to forget about. "They go to sleep. You pull in to get something. You just forget about it. It happens," said Johnson.

The temperature in the back seat, even on a days with highs in the 80s, can reach well over 120 degrees. That's a potentially lethal problem for a child of any age. Johnson said, "If there's a fatality involved, it will probably be investigated as a homicide and you will be looking at something along the lines of manslaughter." It's a situation that can be avoided with a simple look over the shoulder.

Johnson says about half of adults who leave kids unattended in cars do it unintentionally. He suggests putting a purse or your briefcase in the backseat. That way you're forced to check for a child when you get out.

Since 1988, 581 kids in the U.S. have died of heatstroke after being left in cars.

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