DALLAS (AP) -- Sometimes, a child gets left in a sweltering car while Mom or Dad stops for a quick errand. Other times, the child is briefly forgotten, strapped into a car seat.
Across the country, several children already have died in vehicles this year -- at least three of them this week alone -- and safety advocates warn that it takes only minutes in an overheated car to kill a child.
"It's basically a long, slow, torturous process of death for the child -- but it's an eminently preventable injury," said Angela Mickalide, program director for the National SAFE KIDS campaign, a Washington organization dedicated to the prevention of childhood injuries.
A 3-year-old suburban Dallas boy died Wednesday after he accidentally shut himself in his family's parked sport utility vehicle for about 20 minutes as the temperature outside neared 100 degrees.
That same day in Mooresville, N.C., a 6-month-old boy died after being left in a parked car for nearly six hours. The toddler's father said he thought he had dropped the child off at a baby sitter's house.
In Blaine, a 4-month-old boy was found dead in his family's minivan Tuesday after he was left in the sun for about eight hours. The infant's father told police that he forgot to drop off the child at day care and did not realize the baby was in the car.
According to the National SAFE KIDS campaign and General Motors, at least 120 children died in hot vehicles from 1996 through 2000.
In a hot vehicle, a young child's core body temperature can increase three to five times faster than an adult's. At 93 degrees outside, even with a window cracked the temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees in 20 minutes and approximately 140 degrees in 40 minutes, said Amy Carroll-Olson, coordinator of the Minnesota SAFE KIDS Coalition.
In a National SAFE KIDS survey conducted last year, 10 percent of all parents, and 20 percent of those ages 18 to 24, thought it was acceptable to leave young children alone in a car for five minutes. About half of the 700 parents polled said they do not lock their parked vehicles at home.
"Simple behaviors are having such devastating consequences," Mickalide said. "My plea is: Take the baby home first. It's simply not worth the risk."
Safety experts said parents should stress to their children to never play in cars. Also, they should always lock car doors and trunks; keep the keys out of the reach of children; and make sure all children have gotten out of the vehicle when the destination is reached.
At least eight states have laws making it a crime to leave a child unsupervised in a car, Mickalide said.
But generally, parents are not prosecuted, especially if it appears that he or she was more forgetful than out-and-out negligent.
In Minneapolis, residents were divided over whether the father should be prosecuted for leaving his infant in a hot car.
"My instinct is to say it's inexcusable," said Mary Moench, while watching her 5-year-old daughter play at a park. "But if you're a parent, you have a thousand things on your mind. Maybe the wife always took the kids to day care, and then their routine is varied."
Stacy Sward, a teacher at a day-care center, said charges would be appropriate.
"People don't leave their dogs in the car," she said. "Working at a day care, you see lots of different families and lots of families where careers are more important than their children. Your children should be your pride and joy."
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