Monday, July 25, 2016

Hot Cars Are Not Healthy for Children or Other Living Things

Two more children died over the weekend in hot cars. That’s 682 since 1998. It isn’t getting better.

A Forsyth County Sheriff's Office police officer demonstrated the danger of leaving children in a parked, hot car. (Forsyth County Sheriff's Office) 

Jan Null began tracking heatstroke deaths of children left in cars 15 years ago. Since then, 682 children have died in hot cars.

Half of them were under 2 years old, meaning they would never have the chance to read a book, attend school, have first-date jitters or explore their passions.

“Every one of these [deaths] can be prevented,” Null — a certified meteorologist and professor at San Jose State University — told The Washington Post in an interview Sunday evening.

The two latest deaths occurred over the weekend.

On Friday, 4-year-old Samaria Motyka died after being left in a sealed car in Pennsylvania for several hours.
An unnamed woman, who was reported to be in a relationship with Samantha’s father but was otherwise unrelated to the child, was supposed to take the girl to a day-care center. Instead, she drove to her workplace in downtown Williamsport, forgetting Samaria in the backseat for several hours, the Associated Press reported.

Temperatures soared to 97 degrees in Williamsport that day, according to The National Weather Service.

The assistant chief of the Williamsport Police Department, Timothy Miller, said the death appears to be a tragic accident, though officials are still awaiting the results of toxicology reports to determine if negligence was involved.

Two days later, a 3-year-old was left in a 2006 Honda Pilot outside a church in Dallas, while the boy’s father attended a religious service. Temperatures reached 98 degrees Sunday.

Reng Om, a member of the Matu Christian Church, was at the Bible study when the unnamed father realized he’d forgotten his son and rushed out to the parking lot. Minutes later, Om told WFAA, the father walked back in cradling the unresponsive child’s small body in his arms.

The child was pronounced dead at Baylor Medical Center White Rock. Police are investigating.

Thus far, 21 children have died this year from being left in hot cars and many of the situations were particularly horrifying. A 2-year-old left in a car in Annandale, Va., for seven hours in April suffered second-degree burns and had a body temperature of 107 degrees when finally brought to a hospital. In June, a father in Melissa, Tex., was charged with manslaughter for placing his 6-month-old daughter in the refrigerator after leaving her in the car for about four hours.

Null, who posts the data he collects on, said the number of children dying from vehicular heatstroke each year has remained fairly steady since he began tracking the data in 1998.

“You drop the numbers into Excel, you hit the trend line, and you basically get a straight line,” Null said.

He attributes this, at least in part, to a lack of awareness perpetrated both by lawmakers and, until recently, the media.

Courtesy Jan Null, CCM, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, San Jose State University 

“There’s only 20 states that have laws against leaving a child unattended in a car,” he said, adding that Florida’s law allows children to be left in a car for 15 minutes (which he said “could be a death sentence,” noting that death can occur in 20).

Likewise, he said the media didn’t pay much attention to vehicular heatstroke until the 2014 story of Justin Harris leaving his 22-month son in a rear-facing car seat went viral and took over the 24-hour news cycle.

Since then, Null has noticed increased media attention on hot car deaths, which he and many other advocates hoped might lower the number of instances.

That case really raised the media interest,” he said. “A positive unexpected consequence.”

The media attention seemed to be working for the last two years. Since 1998, an average of 37 children have died annually from being left in hot cars. In 2013, 44 children died in this manner.

That number dropped to 31 in 2014 — the year of the Justin Harris story — and 24 in 2015.

Unfortunately, Null called last year an “anomaly.” With 21 recorded deaths so far in 2016, Null sadly noted, “We’re right about where the average would be in the last week of July.”

Before the late 90s, the number was actually much lower — an average of 12 deaths per year. But Null said with the inclusion of air bags in front seat, which aren’t safe for children, and the advent of rear-facing child-seats, the numbers “took a huge stair-step up in the late 90s and have stuck there” 

because parents can more easily forget their children in the car.

The deaths of most of these children can be blamed on sheer forgetfulness.

In addition to simply tracing how many children die each year, he also records the circumstances surrounding each incident.

Fifty-four percent of the 682 recorded deaths in the last 15 years occurred when a parent or caretaker unintentionally forgot a child in the car. Twenty-eight percent occur when a child accidentally locks himself inside of a car (which often included child lock features in the back seat), and 17 percent occur when someone intentionally locks a child in the car. The circumstances in the remaining one percent of cases are unknown.

“A whole range of people can get distracted and leave their child in the car,” Null said. “It can happen to anybody.”

He then directed The Post to an infographic on his site, which listed a short sampling of the aforementioned caretaker’s occupations. Dentist, judge, lawyer, waiter, coach and firefighter are among them.

One of the things these caretakers may not fully understand is how quickly a car heats up — and how hot it can get. Null began studying this exact phenomenon in 1998, after receiving a call from a local journalist. The reporter was working on a story about a boy who died from heatstroke after being left in a car in San Jose, Calif., for two hours on an 86-degree day.

“How hot did it get in that car?” Null was asked, only to realize he didn’t know. He decided to find out, and what he discovered surprised him.

“I was surprised by how rapidly the temperatures rose and ultimately how hot they go,” Null told The Post. “[The car] is basically a greenhouse, and it’s a very effective greenhouse.”

Heat stroke occurs when the body reaches 104 degrees, according to the Mayo Clinic, and Null said at 107 degrees, cells inside the body’s internal organs shut down. It can happen one organ at a time, but he said, “there’s generally a cascade of organs shutting down.”

In addition, a child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s, according to the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

During summer, this means a car’s internal temperature doesn’t often have to rise all that much — the air was already 97 and 98 degrees in the two deaths from the weekend. But it also can reach deadly temperatures easily in the fall or the spring.

“We all know that on hot days, cars get really hot,” Null said. “What I think people don’t really grasp is how hot they get on moderate days.”

How fast your car heats up on a hot day

On a sweltering day, opaque objects in cars, like dark dashboards and seats, can heat up to temperatures over 200 degrees, and then warm up the air around them. Here's a look at how fast those conditions affect the temperature of the air trapped in a car. (Courtesy GM and Jan Null, San Jose State University) 

What most don’t understand is the sunlight isn’t directly heating the air inside a car. Instead, the sun’s shortwave radiation slips in through the windows and heats the objects in the car, including the dashboard, steering wheel, arm rests, child-seat, etc. These warm quickly, then heat the air in the car by means of conduction and convection.

“On a moderate day, a dashboard or a black steering wheel is generally 200 degrees,” Null said.
In a paper he published in Pediatrics with Dr. Catherine McLaren and Dr. James Quinn, Null found that on days when the external air temperature exceeds 86 degrees, the air in a car can reach 154 degrees. The air temperature inside a car rises, on average, 40 degrees with 80 percent of that occurring in the first thirty minutes. Other experts agree. Christopher Haines, director of pediatric emergency medicine at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, told WedMD that up to 70 percent of the increase occurs in the first half-hour.

Most notable, perhaps, is that the air temperature outside the car does not affect how quickly the temperature inside the car rises.

As Safe Kids Worldwide chief executive Kate Carr told CNN, “A car can heat up about 19 degrees in as little as 10 minutes, and we’ve seen heat stroke deaths recorded when the temperature is in the 60s.”

And the old trick of cracking the windows to keep the car cooler? It doesn’t appear to help enough to be significant. The study found that the temperature inside a car with cracked windows rises, on average, 3.1 degrees per five-minute interval, rather than 3.4 degrees.

That’s why heatstroke deaths have been recorded in every month, including December, January and February.

6 tips to prevent child heat stroke in cars

As summer temperatures rise, here are a few simple tips from the National Safety Council to keep kids safe. (Tom LeGro/The Washington Post) 
The National Safety Council advises never leaving a child in a car, regardless of the weather, and to place something you need — such as a purse or wallet — in the back seat, which will force you to check for it before exiting the car. Finally, leave the doors locked when outside of the car, so a curious child can’t climb back in.
Finally, pedestrians should always call 911 if they see a child locked inside of a car.


46 police dogs died in hot squad cars
Green bay Press Gazette   Adam Rodewald, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin 11:11 a.m. CDT October 9, 2015
(Photo: Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette Media)

Story Highlights 
At least 46 U.S. police dogs died of heatstroke while trapped in squad cars in the past five years.
Brown County Sheriff's Office dog Wix is the only heatstroke victim in Wisconsin since at least 2011
Advocates and handlers say most effective prevention of heatstroke is paying attention to your dog.

Police dogs die from heatstroke more than any other non-medical reason, and most of them spend their last moments sweltering in squad cars.

At least 46 police dogs across the United States died from overwhelming heat while locked inside their handlers’ cars during the past five years alone, according to a Press-Gazette Media review of 619 deaths since 2011.

At least 18 more dogs died of heatstroke after being pushed too hard during training exercises, while tied outside in direct sunlight or other reasons.

Both veteran handlers and animal advocates say such deaths are preventable and illustrate acts of negligence or over-reliance on technology to protect the dogs.

Wix, a Brown County Sheriff’s Office bomb-detection dog became the first in Wisconsin to die from heatstroke in recent history. The 3-year-old Belgian Malinois died in his handler’s squad car after the air conditioning and heat alarm failed Aug. 12. The car was parked under direct sunlight in a field at the PGA Championship golf tournament near Sheboygan. An internal investigation determined the handler did nothing wrong.

Police officers need to be held to a higher standard to protect their canine partners, said Russ Hess, a retired handler and executive director of the United States Police K9 Association.

“We’re only humans, and humans make mistakes … but the responsibility stays with the officer to check on his dog just as if it were his child,” Hess said.

Green Bay Police Department K9 officer 'Cops' watches his handler through the screen of his patrol car during the annual Wisconsin Law Enforcement Canine Handler Association's conference with about 115 K9 teams from throughout Wisconsin gathered for four days of training. (Photo: Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette Media)

In one horrifying incident from 2013, 10 U.S. Customs and Border Protection dogs died in a transport vehicle while en route to a canine training center at Fort Bliss, Texas. The air conditioning failed during the trip, and the dogs arrived dead, the El Paso Times reported.

“Those dogs were essentially in an oven. You don’t have to be an animal lover to be sick about this,” a Fort Bliss spokesman told reporters at the time.

No one knows exactly how many police dogs die from heatstroke every year. Law enforcement agencies aren’t required to report it.

Two memorial websites that track police dog deaths — the Connecticut Police Work Dog Association and Officer Down Memorial Page — identified 64 deaths from heatstroke on U.S. soil since 2011.

“To our way of looking at things, an officer who allows a dog to die of heat exhaustion on duty is as neglectful as leaving a service revolver on a school playground,” said Scott Heiser, director of the criminal justice program for the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund.

“These types of cases just simply shouldn’t be happening,” Heiser said.
go HERE to access interactive map
Brown County unique

The Brown County Sheriff’s Office described the death of police dog Wix as a perfect storm of equipment failures. Its investigation concluded no wrongdoing by the dog’s handler. A blower motor in the car’s air-conditioning system stopped working, and a warning device called a Hot-N-Pop did not sound an alarm or lower the car’s windows as expected.

There are no other confirmed cases of police dogs dying after heat alarm failures anywhere in the U.S. in the past five years.

Officers in Camden, N.J., suspected a heat alarm built by Colorado-based Ray Allen Manufacturing failed in 2012, causing a police dog to die, according to news reports.

The department was disbanded and reformed under a new county-wide agency in 2012. No one with the new agency was able to comment on whether the alarm failed, was improperly installed or if the officer neglected to activate it, Public Information Officer Michael Daniels said.

Ray Allen Chief Operating Officer John Oakley did not respond to a request for comment.

In Brown County, tests of the heat alarm revealed that an automatic shut-off setting was causing the device to deactivate improperly. The owner of Ace K9, which manufactured the Hot-N-Pop alarm, came to Green Bay and confirmed the department's findings, according to a final report released by the Sheriff’s Office.

Ace K9 replaced all four of the department’s alarms with updated models at no cost, Chief Deputy Todd Delain said.

“For the company to send the owner and CEO all the way from Florida, and the fact they took responsibility for their part of (the incident), says a lot about the company itself,” Delain said.

Top killer

Air conditioning and other equipment failures were reported as factors in 19 of the 46 heatstroke deaths in squad cars identified by Press-Gazette Media.

Officer negligence was reported in 26 of the incidents.

In 2012, a police dog from Warwick, Ga., died in the back of a sport utility vehicle after being forgotten there while her handler left town for three days. The dog tore through the interior of the vehicle trying to escape, WSB-TV in Atlanta reported.

In 2014, a German shepherd from Medina, Ohio, overheated and died after his handler left him in a squad car for four hours while doing paperwork at the police station, the Northeast Ohio Media Group reported.

Heatstroke is so common that it killed more police dogs in the past five years than gunshots, stabbings or even car strikes, Press-Gazette Media found while analyzing 619 deaths identified on the memorial websites and in various news reports.

Deputy Ed Drewitz of the Racine County Sheriff's Department works with his K9 partner Friday during the training offered at a former packing plant on E. University Avenue October 6, 2015. (Photo: Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette Media)

Most deaths were caused by cancer, heart disease or other medical issues. However, 200 were identified as being the result of traumatic causes.

Heatstroke made up nearly one-third, or 32 percent, of the traumatic deaths. By comparison, 25 percent died after being hit by a vehicle, and 16 percent died from gunshots.

The findings are similar to a 2014 study of 867 police dog deaths between 2002 and 2012 that found heatstroke to be the second highest cause of traumatic deaths, just slightly behind car strikes.

Heatstroke can be a miserable death for dogs. Once the animal’s temperature rises above 105 degrees, its cells begin to break down, leading to organ failure and eventually death.

“The injury from heat can affect the brain, kidney, liver and heart. That’s what makes it such a scary process,” said Veterinarian Julie Walker, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine.

Typical police dog breeds, including Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd, are particularly vulnerable to heat because of their dark and thick fur. They’re also extremely active animals that can spend long hours in squad cars.

Temperatures in a closed vehicle can rise as dramatically as 40 degrees in one hour, according to The American Veterinary Medical Association.

“The need to be ready for duty, but still in the car, puts them at a high risk,” Walker said.

Lessons learned

Wix’s death reverberated throughout law enforcement agencies across Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Canine Handler Association held its annual training conference in Brown County this week. One of the first sessions focused on heat exhaustion, said association president Todd Skarban, a canine handler for the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department.

“We incorporated a lot of the tragedy that happened in Brown County a couple months ago into our training,” Skarban said.

The association recommends every department use heat alarm systems, but, more important, that handlers never stop paying attention to the dogs’ needs.

“It’s not a matter of changing policy. Check on your dog. We all ultimately have to do that,” Skarban said.

Brown County is implementing several changes to help prevent future heatstroke deaths. Changes include buying and mounting fans in one window of all K9 unit squad cars, performing monthly inspections of air-conditioning units during summer months, and requiring handlers to keep both rear windows all the way open when away from the vehicle for a considerable time.

Officer Christine Waystedt of West Allis Police Department wears a bite suit to act the bad guy for police K9 training October 6, 2015 at a former packing plant on E. University Ave. The Brown County SheriffÕs Department, Ashwaubenon Public Safety and Green Bay Police Department K9 units are hosting the annual Wisconsin Law Enforcement Canine Handler AssociationÕs conference with about 115 K9 teams from throughout Wisconsin gathered for four days of training. (Photo: Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette Media)

Other departments across the country have also made changes following canine deaths.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office in Fresno, Calif., began requiring daily heat alarm system checks after a dog died in 2011 when his handler forgot to activate the alarm.

"The properly installed heat alert system is only a tool and is not intended to replace the handler's responsibility of checking on the dog regularly when possible," Fresno County Sheriff's Lt. John Reynolds said. and follow him on Twitter @AdamGRodewald and on Facebook at

No comments: