Dallas County

Texas Is Going Through a Kids Dying In Hot Cars Epidemic

Two-year-old Boi Sang died on Sunday afternoon. He'd been left in his parents' Honda Pilot in the parking lot of Dallas Matu Christian Church, which caters to the city's Burmese population. He was the fifth Texas child to die after being left in a hot car so far this year, and the 21st in the United States, according to Janette Fennell, the president and founder of KidsandCars.org, an organization that tracks children's auto injuries.

In 2015, only 25 kids died from being left in hot cars, the lowest total since 1997.

Dallas police are still investigating Sang's death and haven't charged either of his parents, who were reportedly inside the church with their three other children when they realized Boi wasn't there. Fennell says that, despite the majority of kids in hot cars incidents being accidents, parents end up getting charged with a crime 55 percent of the time.

"Is an honest mistake a crime?" she asks. "These parents will never get charged with anything that’s more painful than their own prison, the guilt they feel afterwards. A lot of people are charged and they shouldn’t be."

Sometimes, Fennell admits, alcohol and drugs are involved in what happens. Those parents should face the music, she says, but 90 percent of the time, cases where kids die in hot cars come down to good parents making an honest mistake because of miscommunication or a change in routine.

"There’s a scientific explanation with the competing memories in our brains. What tends to happen is people get on auto pilot," she says. Because cars effectively function as greenhouses when their engines are turned off, kids and pets can die in cars when it is as temperate as 55 degrees. There have been hot car deaths in every month of the year, according to Fennell. During the summer in places like Texas, it takes very little to create a dangerous situation.

Sang reportedly sat in the parking lot for at least an hour before Dallas Fire and Rescue arrived at the church at a little before 4 p.m. Sunday. In 100 degree weather, the temperature inside a car reaches about 150 degrees in that amount of time, Fennell says. That's impossible for anyone to survive for any length of time, much less a toddler.

Until auto makers begin including safety enhancements that make forgetting one's child as hard as forgetting to turn one's headlights off, Fennell says, the best way to avoid the tricks of the mind that can lead to leaving a child behind is to place something like your phone, lunch or even your left shoe in the backseat so that you're forced to open one of your back doors before leaving your car for the day. To make sure kids don't get into cars on their own when they shouldn't, cars should be locked at all times when one isn't in them, she says.

"People who think it can’t happen to them are making the biggest mistake," she says. "It can happen to anyone." 
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young