The Atmore Police Department is investigating the death of a child that was left in a hot car Monday.
The two-year-old was left in the car all day Monday when temperatures reached nearly 80 degrees. Police said the man realized the child was in the back seat of his vehicle that afternoon when he went to pick up the toddler from daycare. Daycare workers told him the child was never dropped off that day. He then went outside and found the child. The toddler was taken to the hospital but did not survive.
Shawn Rounsavall, 51, of Atmore, is charged with reckless murder. Court documents state the child was left in the vehicle for approximately eight hours.
Rounsavall was booked into the Escambia County Jail.
Hot car deaths
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that over 900 children have died in hot car deaths since 1998. The cause of death is typically heat stroke because a baby’s thermal regulatory system is not fully developed. In fact, a child’s body overheats three to five times faster than an adult’s, and they have very little ability to sweat.
Heat exhaustion occurs first, causing intense thirst, weakness, discomfort, anxiety, dizziness, fainting and headache. When body temperature reaches more than 104 degrees, heatstroke can occur. The result is neurological symptoms such as delirium, convulsions, coma and possibly death.
When someone becomes hyperthermic, the cells in the body are starved of what they need to function, impacting the brain’s ability to communicate with the rest of the body.
Criminal charges in hot car deaths
On top of the initial trauma of losing a child left in a hot car, criminal charges are always possible when a child dies in a hot car. Leaving a child unattended in a vehicle for any amount of time is considered a misdemeanor crime, even if the child is not injured.
Negligent homicide or other forms of these crimes are possible if a person leaves the youth in the car for an extended time, such as over an hour. More extreme charges are possible if the young person is in the car for over four hours in the heat or without any water or way of escape.
Below are tips from KidsandCars.org to help prevent a hot car death:
· Make it a habit of opening the back door every time you park to ensure no one is left behind.
· To enforce this habit, place an item you can’t start your day without in the back seat: employee badge, laptop, phone, handbag, etc.
· Ask your childcare provider to call you immediately if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.
· Clearly announce and confirm who gets each child out of the vehicle. Miscommunication can lead to everyone thinking someone else removed the child.
· Also, make sure there is no way your child can get into your parked car on their own.
· Never leave children alone in or around cars, not even for a minute.
· If a child goes missing, immediately check the inside passenger compartments and trunks of all vehicles in the area very carefully, even if they are locked. A child may lock the car doors after entering a vehicle on their own but may be unable to unlock them.
· If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. Call 911 immediately. If the child seems hot or sick, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
· Be especially careful during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays. This is when many tragedies occur.
· Use drive‐thru services when available (restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, etc.) and pay for gas at the pump.
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