Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Police were dispatched to Walmart after shoppers noticed a newborn baby left in a vehicle.
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – Authorities were dispatched to Walmart on Wednesday at about 7:11 p.m. regarding an infant who was left in a vehicle.
It was the second time this month officers responded to a child being left in a vehicle. On May 6, a 9-month-old baby boy was accidentally locked in a Chevy Equinox as his father buckled him into a safety seat and the vehicle automatically locked when the rear door was shut. In that case, Thatcher Sgt. Everett Cauthen had to use his lock-out kit to gain entry and remove the boy, who had begun sweating profusely.
On Wednesday, a Thatcher officer and Graham County Sheriff’s deputy responded to the scene where a newborn child was left in a white Ford Escape.
According to a Thatcher Police report, the driver said she was watching her niece’s newborn child for her and just “ran into Walmart” without thinking about the child. The woman also left her dog with the newborn child while taking her older son into the store with her, according to a witness’ statement. The doors were unlocked on the vehicle and the windows were down a few inches. However, rolling windows down a few inches has been shown to not alleviate the heat that builds up in vehicles, especially in Arizona in the summer, where temperatures inside vehicles can increase rapidly.
The woman told law enforcement that she was only in the store for a short time before she realized she had left the child and dog in the vehicle. The officer reported the woman appeared remorseful and perhaps was just not used to caring for a small child. However, witnesses at the scene reported the woman had finished her shopping and was surprised to see people at her vehicle with the doors open and that was when she remembered the infant was left in the SUV.
There was no word on any medical care necessary for the infant, and the woman said she was taking the child back to the mother and that she would not do something like that again.
On average, 37 children die each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside vehicles.
According to San Francisco State University’s Department of Geosciences, the temperature in a car can increase up to 20 degrees in 10 minutes during daytime hours and more than 40 degrees in an hour. Another study by the Texas A&M Medical Science Center lists that cracking a window has no effect on the rate of the rising temperature or a final temperature. That is due, in part to the greenhouse effect of short radiation from the sun entering the car and being turned into long radiation and heat, which remains trapped in the car.
That means even in 72-degree weather with the windows cracked, the temperature inside a car can reach 112 degrees, and vehicles parked in 100-degree weather (a common occurrence for most of Arizona this time of year) can see an interior increase to 120 degrees in just 10 minutes and can reach an easily fatal 140 degrees.
In 2015, Arizona Director of Child Safety Greg McKay performed a demonstration in Phoenix in May when the temperature outside was less than 90 degrees. McKay had a car that had its air conditioner on pull into a parking spot and then had the vehicle turned off. The temperature in the car rose from 86 degrees to 108 degrees in just 10 minutes and continued up to 124 degrees in only 25 minutes.
Thatcher Police Chief Shaffen Woods praised the officers for performing their duties well and saving the infant from serious injury and, possibly, death.
“They did a great job,” Woods said. “(I’m) proud of them!”
Safety tips to avoid children vehicular heatstroke
• Never leave children alone in or around vehicles
• Put something you’ll need like your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or briefcase on the floorboard in the back seat underneath the child’s car seat.
• Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to make sure no child has been left behind.
• Keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat when it’s not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat as a visual reminder that a child is in the back seat.
• Make arrangements with your child’s daycare center or babysitter that you will always call if your child will not be in attendance.
• Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway.
• Keys and/or remote openers should never be left within reach of children.
• When a child is missing, check vehicles and car trunks immediately.
• If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. If the child is hot or seems sick, get him or her out as quickly as possible and call 911.
• Be especially careful about keeping children safe in and around cars during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays.
• Use drive-through services when available.
• Use your debit or credit card to pay for gas at the gas station.
This article was updated at 4:55 p.m. to reflect a witness’ statement.