A two-year-old girl has died after her babysitter allegedly left her in a hot car for several hours.
The tragedy sparks renewed warnings for Australian parents to be vigilant, particularly as temperatures begin to rise.
Over the past decade, eight children have died and approximately 5,000 have been rescued after being left in hot cars in Australia. In the US, the situation is far more tragic. Indeed, in 2018 alone, 52 children died from vehicular heatstroke.
In this latest incident, family babysitter Tammie Brooks, 41, of Hobbs in the US state of New Mexico, has been arrested and accused of leaving two-year-old Zariah Hasheme in her car resulting in the infant’s death.
Speaking about the tragic event, which happened last week, Police say Brooks was supposed to be taking the toddler to daycare but instead drove to work.
“The child was left unattended in her car seat for several hours until Brooks realised the child was still in the car after running an errand,” police say.
Mother suffered years of pregnancy loss
Unquestionably, the girl’s mother Demi Petrowski has been left heartbroken by her daughter’s death. Moreover, Ms Petrowski says she suffered six miscarriages before conceiving her “miracle baby”.
I remember praying every single day, non-stop,” she says. “I would not wish this pain and this hurt upon my worst enemy.”
Also last week, a three-year-old boy died in San Antonio after he was accidentally left in a hot car for several hours. A police spokesperson says the family had been at a six-year-old child’s tee-ball game and may have gotten distracted after returning home.
It had been a few hours, so by the time they discovered he had been [left in the car] they came out and tried to perform life-saving measures, but the boy had died,” – the police spokesperson says.
Cars reach dangerous temperatures in minutes
President of Kidsafe Victoria, Dr Mark Stokes, warns children’s lives could be at risk after only several minutes in a hot car.
The temperature inside a parked car during the Australian summer can be 20 to 30 degrees hotter than the outside temperature,” – Dr Stokes says.
On a 29-degree-celsius day a car can reach 44 degrees in just 10 minutes and a deadly 60 degrees in 20 minutes. Leaving the window down a few centimetres does little.”
Dr Stokes says the smaller the child, the greater the risk. A young child will quickly dehydrate and lapse into unconsciousness.
Dr Stokes says that while a large percentage of these cases are unintentional, there are still quite a few incidents where the parent or guardian has intentionally left the child, or children, in the vehicle unattended for a significant amount of time.
Our message is clear: take the children with you. Hot cars are killers.”
Grandmother’s deadly mistake
In February this year, a Sydney toddler died after his grandmother left him in the car by mistake.
Valerie Foley was babysitting her 22-month-old grandson, Jonè, and had accidentally dozed off after returning from a drive. She did not realise her youngest grandson was locked in the car until two hours later.
Her daughter, Samantha Rowlands, says she doesn’t blame her mother for the tragic death. She has forgiven her for the accident.
“I’ve lost my baby and I don’t blame her, so no-one else should,” she told A Current Affair. “It was just an accident and, at the end of the day, she’s still my mum and I love her. It can happen to anyone, it doesn’t matter who you are.
All sorts of stuff can take your mind off your child. But they need to be the number one priority before anything else because they’re too precious,” – says Ms Rowlands.
Prevent fatal distraction
The Victorian Government’s Fatal Distraction campaign aims to prevent kids from accidentally being left in cars. Fatal distraction occurs when parents or carers unknowingly leave their child in a car. It is a condition that impacts short-term memory capacity. What’s more, it can lead to serious injury or, in extreme cases, the death of a child.
Short-term memory is used for temporary information, like reminding ourselves to pick up bread on the way home from work. When people become tired and stressed, short-term memory failure can cause habitual memory to take over.
For example, an exhausted parent may drive straight to work along their normal route rather than stopping to drop a child off at childcare. As a result, they inadvertently leave the child in the car when they arrive at work.
The Fatal Distraction campaign suggests parents work steps into daily routines to help lower the risk of accidentally leaving a child in a hot car. These include:
- Open the back door of the car every time you park, even if there is no one in the back seat
- Place a child’s bag or cuddly toy in the front seat as a reminder
- Leave a bag, phone or wallet in the back seat of the car
- Use a mirror for rear-facing car seats
- Create a mental list of things to check each time you leave the car. For example, baby, keys, wallet and phone
- Install electronic controls that create an audio reminder.
These devastating incidences act as a brutal reminder of the importance for us parents to be vigilant.