Mother faces charges for leaving children in hot car

Tribune Staff • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:38 AM

A warrant for the woman's arrest was expected to be issued late Tuesday.

Emergency crews were called to the parking lot at Walmart, 1879 E. Sherman Blvd. in Fruitport Township, at 3:44 p.m. July 7. The temperature at the time was 88 degrees, humidity was 54 percent and the heat index was 93 degrees, police said. All of the vehicle's windows were at least halfway open.

Police found a 1-year-old boy slumped over his car seat and drooling in the car. Two other boys, ages 7 and 1, were also in the car, said Sgt. Bruce Morningstar of the Fruitport Township Police Department.

The boys had been left alone for 20-30 minutes, Morningstar said.

“Repeated attempts to wake the child were unsuccessful,” Morningstar said. “The officer reported the (slumped-over) child was breathing, but the child’s body was hot even though the child did not have a shirt on.”

The child was taken from the car to a cooler area where he eventually became responsive, Morningstar said. The boy was evaluated at the scene by emergency medical personnel and was not taken to a hospital.

Police found the car's owner inside the store and turned the children over to her. Morningstar said she told police she left them in the car because one of the boys was sleeping and she didn't want to wake him.

This is the kind of case that disturbs Jan Null, lecturer of meteorology at San Francisco State University and an expert on heat hazards in automobiles.

“The most troublesome cases are like this one — where someone makes a conscious decision to leave a child in the car,” he said. “That shows a great amount of disrespect for life.”

Null said the kids in this case are “lucky to be alive.”

“You’re probably talking about 120 degrees inside that car” after 20-30 minutes, Null said. Even having the windows open will make a difference of only a few degrees, he added.

Children’s bodies heat up 3-5 times faster than adults, Null said. Combine that with sitting in a car seat that doesn’t allow your body to perspire, and you can heat up quickly.

Null said people cool off by perspiring. When your body temperature gets to 104 degrees, your body goes into survival mode and stops perspiring, he said. The symptoms of heat stroke are reddish skin and feeling warm to the touch, but dry.

Null authors a website that has statistics on hyperthermia deaths of children in vehicles. He said there have been 11 deaths of children left in vehicles so far this year across the country.

More than half of those were left in the car by someone who forgot they were there, Null said. A child left on purpose in a vehicle accounts for 17 percent of the deaths.

Null said there have been six such deaths in Michigan since 1998. The latest was in 2010, when a 2-year-old girl was found in the family car after she was discovered missing.

The state of Michigan adopted a law two years ago that made it a crime to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. The penalty on the low end — where a child is not seriously harmed — is a misdemeanor with jail time up to 93 days and/or a fine up to $500. If the child is more seriously injured, the jail time could be up to one year and the fine up to $1,000. If the situation results in serious injury to the child, it becomes a felony with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine up to $5,000. In the case of death, punishment is up to 15 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

Morningstar said a police report on the July 7 incident was forwarded to the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office and Children’s Protective Services.

The detective said his department doesn’t get a lot of these types of calls and he’s never handled a fatal incident while working for Fruitport Township.

“It’s more frequent that people are leaving pets in cars," he said.

Null said you should not leave children or infants in a car for any amount of time.

“Lots of bad things can happen when kids are left in cars,” he said.

Null’s website was created to help raise awareness, in an effort to prevent any harm to children.

Null's website: ggweather.com/heat/#home

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