Another child’s life was lost to hot car death this week, when a 15-month-old Connecticut boy was left in the car for “an extended period of time” when his dad forgot to drop him off at daycare and went to work. Last year 44 U.S. children died of heat stroke in cars, and 16 cases have been reported already this year.
The child has been identified as Benjamin Seitz. His father, Kyle Seitz, drove to a coffee shop before heading to work. During the work day he drove the car to go out for lunch, apparently not noticing that the child was still in the back seat. Only when he left work for the day, heading to pick up Benjamin at daycare, did he realize that Benjamin was still in the car. He drove directly to the hospital where the child was pronounced dead at about 6 p.m.
Ridgefield, Connecticut police are investigating to try to determine the exact amount of time the boy was left in the hot car. Authorities have declined to say whether charges will be filed against Seitz. Cause of death is pending final autopsy results.
Benjamin Seitz is the second such death in less than a month. Georgia toddler Cooper Harris died last month after being left in a hot car all day in another instance of a father claiming that he forgot to drop the child off at day care before going to work. Justin Ross Harris went to work and left 22-month-old Cooper alone in the family SUV for seven hours. Harris has been fired from his job and is facing charges of child cruelty in the second degree and felony murder. Police suspect that this death may have been premeditated and that Harris was possibly living a double life.
Cooper Harris’ death, among others, have raised questions about whether the government should step in to try to prevent more such hot car deaths from happening, or whether the issue is solely one of parental responsibility. Considerations include mandatory driver-reminder alerts, such as that already included in cars to remind drivers and passengers to wear seat belts, remove the key or turn off the headlights.
David Friedman, acting administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, says their focus is on ensuring that people follow some simple safety procedures that can reduce infant or child heat stroke by 100 percent. He suggests putting a reminder in the back seat of the car, such as purse, briefcase or cellphone, to serve as a reminder that there is a child also in the back seat.
Some states are already calling for new laws, not waiting for the auto industry or federal government to take action. Nineteen states already make it illegal to leave an unattended child in a vehicle. A new law in Tennessee, which took effect July 1, has gone even further, protecting bystanders from liability for damages for breaking into a hot car to rescue a child. Although many states have laws on the books that protect Good Samaritans from lawsuits, the Tennessee law is the only one that specifically addresses kids left in cars.
Janette Fennell is founder and president of the nonprofit child safety organization KidsAndCars.org. She encourages people to be proactive, looking inside cars while walking through parking lots and taking action by calling 911 immediately if a child is spotted alone in a car. She says if the child appears to be in serious distress to try to get into the car and also figure out which window could be broken to gain access without the glass harming the child. Others, such as Free-Range Kids author Lenore Skenazy say calling 911 immediately upon seeing a child alone in a car is “lunacy.” She advises standing by the car and waiting for the parent to return.
Experts warn that it can get extremely hot in a car very quickly, even if temperatures are fairly low outside, and that cracking a window for air does little to help keep the car cool. The Mayo Clinic says that people are in danger of death from heat stroke when body temperatures are 104 degrees or more for prolonged periods. Small children and the elderly are particularly susceptible.
CNN weather experts estimate that air inside the hot car Cooper Harris’ dad forgot him in could have reached nearly 140 degrees. The day Benjamin Seitz died the outside temperature was 87 degrees. Benjamin Seitz’s father is under investigation. Cooper Harris’ father is facing murder charges.
By Beth A. Balen