5-year-old dies after accidentally left inside vehicle for several hours as temperatures top 100 degrees, sheriff says

Here's what we know

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – A child is dead after being left inside a hot vehicle for several hours outside a northeast Harris County home, according to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

The tragic incident was reported to deputies around 2 p.m. in the 13700 block of Blair Hill Lane.

According to Gonzalez, a mother and her two children - ages 8 and 5 - were out running errands for the 8-year-old’s birthday party Monday night and when they arrived back at the home, the mom and the older child got out of the vehicle.

The mother was unaware that her little boy was still strapped inside. Sheriff Gonzalez said by the time she realized that she had not seen him it was too late.

“Between maybe two to three hours, the mom noticed that the other 5-year-old wasn’t nowhere to be found,” the sheriff said. “She began calling for him, but no answer. She frantically ran outside and discovered the 5-year-old still buckled in his car seat.”

Afternoon temperatures soared slightly above 100 degrees Monday afternoon, and temperatures inside the closed vehicle were even higher. It takes only 10 minutes in a hot car for temperatures to climb to 113 degrees in a locked car.

The Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet released his official cause of death, but Gonzalez said he likely died due to heat stroke.

“It appears that the child routinely knows how to unbuckle himself from the toddler’s seat and open the door, but on this occasion, it didn’t happen,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said it’s not clear why the child didn’t unstrap but it’s possible the child was unfamiliar with the loaner vehicle the family was using.

Officials are reminding parents who are traveling with their children during these days of extreme heat to put something in the back seat to remind them that a child is in the vehicle with them.

“Look before you lock, always check that backseat, do your roll call, make sure everyone is accounted for when you get in the house,” said Amber Rollins, Director of Kids and Car Safety. “If you take your kids to daycare ask them to call you immediately if your child doesn’t show up as scheduled.”

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, children dying from heatstroke in cars, either because they were left or became trapped, has increased in recent years. In 2018 and 2019, a record 53 children died of vehicular heatstroke each year.

Heatstroke Facts

The majority of hot car deaths - 53% - happen because someone forgets a child in a car. You may be asking yourself: How does this happen? Families who lost a loved one thought the same thing at one point, but then the tragedy happened to them. Here are some additional facts.

  • About 46% of the time when a child was forgotten, the caregiver meant to drop the child off at a daycare or preschool.
  • Thursdays and Fridays - the end of the workweek - have had the highest deaths.
  • More than half of the deaths (54%) are children under 2 years old.

Tips for Keeping Children Safe

Check for Baby

Parents and caregivers, get in the habit of always looking inside your car before locking the doors. Remember: Park. Look. Lock. And always ask yourself, “Where’s Baby?”

Everyone Should Keep Their Car Locked

Vehicular heatstroke deaths don’t just happen when a child is forgotten. The second leading cause - 26% - of such deaths are children getting into unattended vehicles. Get in the habit of always locking your car doors and trunk, year-round. The temperature inside a car can reach over 115 degrees when the outside temperature is just 70 degrees.

Never Leave a Child Alone

While all types of vehicular heatstroke deaths are preventable, the third leading cause of these deaths - knowingly leaving a child - is the most preventable. Never leave a child alone in a parked car, even with the windows rolled down or the air conditioning on. A child’s body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s.

See a Child Alone in a Vehicle?

If you see a child alone in a vehicle, make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911 immediately.

  • If the child appears to be okay, attempt to locate the parents; if at a public place, have the facility page the car owner over an intercom system.
  • If the child is not responsive and appears to be in distress, attempt to get into the car to assist the child - even if that means breaking a window. Many states have “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people from lawsuits for getting involved to help a person in an emergency.

Remember: Kids and hot cars can be a deadly combination. Don’t take the chance. Always look in the front and back of the vehicle before locking the door and walking away. Help spread the word on social media, #HeatstrokeKills #CheckforBaby.

Technology available to help prevent hot car deaths

There are also various products that can assist in preventing hot car deaths.

Some vehicles manufactured recently already have systems in place that can detect if a child is present in the vehicle, but for those that are not technically advanced, there are other products you can install that provide the same assistance. KidsAndCars.org has provided a list for parents and consumers. Click here to read more on their website.