Look before you lock: Don’t leave children, pets unattended in vehicles, MCSO captain says

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Since January, deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office have responded to 18 calls in Queen Creek from citizens concerned that someone left a child or animal unattended in a vehicle. Capt. Dave Munley wants to make sure that number doesn’t grow, especially now that triple digits are here to stay for the summer.

“Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash-related fatalities for children 14 and younger,” Capt. Munley said during an interview, citing information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.

Between 1998 and 2014, 636 children died nationwide as a results of being left unattended in a car, according to the website. In 53 percent of those cases, the caregiver forgot the child was there, Capt. Munley said. In 29 percent, the child got into the vehicle on his or her own, and in 17 percent, children were left intentionally by an adult, he said.

Of the 18 reported incidents this year in Queen Creek, 13 were dogs left in cars and five involved children ranging in ages from a couple months to one youngster old enough to be playing an iPad, he said, estimating the ages after reviewing incident records.

Capt. Munley said he did not believe there have been any fatalities in Queen Creek as a result of being left in cars. In the cases where the drivers were present, the responding deputies spoke to the caregivers about the dangers of leaving a child or animal in a vehicle.

A deputy just happened to be in the neighborhood when one such incident occurred June 7 near the Queen Creek Wal-mart, 21055 E. Rittenhouse Road, according to a post in a Facebook discussion group. The group member said she and another concerned person stayed with a vehicle in which a dog had been left. High temperatures at the nearby Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport that afternoon ranged from 100 degrees to 104 degrees, according to the National Weather Service website.

The poster said the pet owner returned to the car and the two argued. She then said a deputy followed the pet owner’s vehicle as it left the parking lot and then pulled over the driver.

Capt. Munley confirmed the incident took place. He said the deputy spoke to the driver about not leaving animals in a locked vehicle.

The poster also said she tried to break the car window but was unable to. Smashing the glass should be done only in extreme emergencies, according to Capt. Munley. He said the Arizona has ARS 13-417, the Necessity Defense law. It states it is justified to break the law — such as breaking a car window — if a reasonable person would believe it was the only option to prevent a harm that would be worse than breaking the law. People should check whether the vehicle is locked before considering taking such a drastic measure, Capt. Munley said.

In addition, people should also consider if a child or animal is in distress and how long it would take for help to arrive before breaking in a window, he said. He said that should only be used as a last resort, noting it could create additional problems.

“You need to be prepared for what could happen. An animal could turn on you on their release trying to protect their property,” Capt. Munley said.

Some specialty stores allow animals to be brought inside. PetSmart permits all kinds of animals, Jason Bartley, manager of the Queen Creek PetSmart, 21032 S. Ellsworth Loop Road, said during a phone interview.  Most patrons bring in their dogs, Mr. Bartley said, but he has also seen more exotic animals such as geckos brought inside since the company sells such a wide range of specialty pet products.

Prevention tips

For those who are unaccustomed to traveling with a child or pet, Capt. Munley recommends placing a wallet, purse or cell phone in the backseat as a reminder to check the car before locking it up. A sticky note placed on the vehicle’s dashboard can also remind drivers to check the back seat, he said.

“Sometimes drivers aren’t thinking; they’re running in and out,” Capt. Munley said. “Some simple steps can help prevent a tragedy.”

“Every heatstroke death caused by leaving a child unattended in a hot car is 100 percent preventable,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a press release. “The message is simple: never leave a child alone in a vehicle and always check the back seat before walking away. As a bystander, if you see a kid alone in a hot car, take action. Working together, we can prevent these tragedies.”

The NHTSA website also recommends the following as part of its Look Before You Lock campaign:

•Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.
•Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open.
•Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.
•If you are dropping your child off at childcare, and normally it’s your spouse or partner who drops them off, have your spouse or partner call you to make sure the drop went according to plan.
•Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up for childcare.
•Always lock vehicle doors and trunks and keep keys out of children’s reach. If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk.
•If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call the police. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately.
•Keeping an object in the car seat, such as a stuffed toy. When the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when he or she is leaving the vehicle.

What you need to know, now

•Vehicles heat up quickly — even with a window rolled down 2 inches — if the outside temperature is in the low 80s degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, according to the NHTSA website.
•Children’s bodies overheat easily, and infants and children under 4 years of age are among those at greatest risk for heat-related illness.
•Children’s bodies absorb more heat on a hot day than an adult. Also, children are less able to lower their body heat by sweating. When a body cannot sweat enough, the body temperature rises rapidly. In fact, when left in a hot vehicle, a young child’s body temperature may increase three to five times as fast an adult. High body temperatures can cause permanent injury or even death.

Dangers of extreme heat
•Symptoms of heatstroke: Warning signs vary but may include: red, hot and moist or dry skin; no sweating; a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse; a throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; being grouchy or acting strangely.

News Editor Wendy Miller can be contacted at 480-982-7799 and via e-mail at qcnews@newszap.com, or follow her on Twitter @WendyNewszap123. Be sure to like us at www.facebook.com/Queen Creek/San Tan Valley Independent.

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