It happens approximately fifteen to twenty times a year in the United States — a child dies from hyperthermia after being mistakenly left in a hot car for an extended period of time. The majority of the time, it is a parent, with men and women forgetting the child in equal percentages. However, sometimes it is a childcare or daycare provider, as was the case on Friday, July 22, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, after a 4-year-old child was left in vehicle while her caregiver went to work.
The child, a 4-year-old female identified as Samaria Motyka, was being cared for by a babysitter who was supposed to drop her off at another daycare facility before the babysitter went to work. The babysitter, who has not been identified by police as of yet, drove to work, parked the vehicle, and worked all day with the child inside. When the caregiver entered the vehicle after work, the child was discovered, unconscious and not breathing, and was rushed to Williamsport Hospital, where she was pronounced dead after numerous attempts to resuscitate her, according to US.
It is not known whether the child was in a restraint nor if the vehicle was locked, nor if the child could have alerted any passersby as to her desperate situation. The eastern United States is experiencing the longest heat wave since 2013, with highs in the 90s every day, and Williamsport, Pennsylvania, reached a high of ninety seven degrees at 4 pm, shortly after the discovery of the child.
Inside of a vehicle during those kinds of temperatures, it can quickly rise in excess of one hundred fifty degrees — enough to render someone unconscious in minutes. After an individual’s core body temperature reaches one hundred eight degrees, severe neurological impairment occurs, including seizures and brain death. The individual usually stops breathing and dies soon after, with additional damage to internal organs and skin occurring even after death. It is not unusual to find someone who is deceased in a hot car to be a deep red to purple color, making the situation even more traumatic for all involved.
In similar cases, there have been various legal outcomes. Some situations have resulted in no charges being filed after the death was deemed accidental, although often the cases go to jury trial, where facts in the cases are presented to a judge and jury, who may find the person guilty of murder, manslaughter, child neglect, or other crimes, or the individual may be found innocent. In most cases, a verdict of manslaughter or a determination of acquittal of charges is reached.
Studies have determined the trend is happening more frequently, and believe this may be as result of more multi-tasking on the case of the parent or caregiver, as well as the fact that more children attend daycare. Another risk factor is if there is anything different about the day — a different person dropping the child off at daycare, a different time the child is being dropped off, or any alteration in the morning (such as stopping for an errand before dropping the child off at daycare) is a risk factor. Caregiver stress, postpartum depression, lack of sleep, and running late have all been indicated in forgetting to take a child to a sitter as well.
The younger the child, the bigger the risk, since infants are likely to be asleep and quiet, and are usually rear-facing in the backseat of a car.
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