Children left unattended in hot cars are dying in record numbers across the nation, and experts warn that the next few months are the most dangerous time of the year.
Already this year, three children have died of hyperthermia after being left in hot vehicles, bringing the total number of deaths to at least 500 since 1998, according to a study by San Francisco State University. Florida had the second highest number of deaths in that time period, with 56 — Texas, with 71, had the most.
More than half of the 500 children who died were forgotten by their caregivers and left in cars. Nearly a third were playing in unattended vehicles.
The most recent death in Central Florida occurred in September 2007 when 22-month-old Danielle Brosonski died after being left in a car in the parking lot of Ocoee City Hall. Police said a city worker forgot her daughter was strapped into a safety seat behind her and found the child when she returned to the vehicle at lunchtime.
The child still had vital signs when she was removed from the car but was pronounced dead later at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando.
Last week, a Deltona woman was arrested on a charge of child neglect after her 8-month-old son was found unattended in a car in a grocery-store parking lot.
Jordan White, 25, also faces a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession, Volusia County Sheriff's spokesman Brandon Haught said.
Children can die in an enclosed car when the temperature outside is only 70 degrees, according to the San Francisco State study, but most deaths occur in the summer months when the temperatures are much higher.
On average, the temperature inside an enclosed car rises 19 degrees in 10 minutes and 43 degrees in an hour, the study found.
"No errand is so short that you can afford to leave your child in the car," said Robin Butler of the Seminole County Department of Public Safety.
That's especially true in Florida with its high temperatures, she said.
Animals need the same precautions as children, Butler said.
At least 49 children died of hyperthermia — six in Florida — in 2010, the most since records have been kept. That was up from 33 in 2009, when eight children died in Florida.
Florida is one of 19 states with laws that address leaving children unattended in vehicles.
State law prohibits leaving a child younger than 6 in a vehicle for more than 15 minutes or for any period of time if the motor of the vehicle is running or the health of the child is in danger.
Although that is a misdemeanor, if the child suffers great bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement, the charge escalates to a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Child was unharmed, released to father
In the May 24 incident in Deltona, an off-duty Orange County deputy sheriff was driving through the parking lot of the Publix shopping center at 605 Courtland Blvd. just after 7:30 p.m. when a woman flagged him down and told him about the child sitting alone in a vehicle.
The deputy opened the car's door and checked on the child, who seemed a little warm but was otherwise fine, Haught of the Volusia Sheriff's Office said. The child was left in the car for at least 12 minutes and was placed in potential danger because the windows were rolled up, the car was warm inside and the doors were left unlocked, allowing anyone access to the child, Haught said.
A Volusia deputy arrived and contacted White a few minutes later when she returned to her car.
White told the deputy that before going to the grocery store she had dropped her boyfriend off at their home and she thought he had taken the child with him, Haught said.
As the deputy spoke with White, he detected the smell of marijuana coming from inside the car and a search turned up a small amount of marijuana in a plastic bag and a burnt marijuana "roach" on the floorboard, Haught said.
The infant was unharmed and was released to his father.
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