Toddler dies after being left in hot car, O'Fallon chief says

By Kim Bell kbell@post-dispatch.com

O'FALLON, Ill. A toddler died after being left in a hot car for about two hours Thursday by a parent who forgot about him, O'Fallon Police Chief John Betten said.

The boy, less than 2 years old, was discovered inside the sweltering car at about 5 p.m. Thursday outside the family's home in the 300 block of Joy Drive. Betten declined to identify the boy.

One parent -- Betten declined to say mother or father -- put the child in the car expecting to go somewhere with other family members.

"Everybody got distracted, and the trip got put on hold," Betten said. "The parent neglected to go back and retrieve the young man."

The temperature outside was 90 or 91 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Experts say a car's interior can have soared to more than 110 degrees in 10 minutes, then climbed to 140 degrees in a half-hour.

Betten said he didn't know the exact temperature of the car Thursday after the boy was found dead. He said officers on Friday would try to re-create the events to detect how quickly the car heated up and to what temperature.

The child was discovered after the other parent returned from work and saw the child inside the car. The child was taken into the home and the parent called 911, but the boy was already dead, Betten said.

The parent who put the boy in the car could be charged later today, Betten said. Police are planning to present the case to the prosecuting attorney.

Betten said, "It's probably a combination of one of the first really hot days of the year and the series of events that came after that."

"As a result of that long of an exposure in the 90s for somebody less than 2 the consequences were going to be dire."

Both parents were at the home when police arrived.

An autopsy is going to be conducted today. The St. Clair County coroner wasn't available for comment.

The boy would be the 14th child to die in the U.S. so far this year after being left in hot cars, according to research compiled by Jan Null, an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University who keeps such statistics. Those deaths have been from Idaho to Florida and since May 10.

After 10 minutes, the average temperature inside a car is 19 degrees higher than the outside air temperature, according to Null's data. After another 10 minutes, it goes up 10 more degrees.

"There are slow-cook recipes that are in these temperature ranges," Null told the Post-Dispatch in 2010 after a similar tragedy. "These are horrific deaths."

Here is a map showing the heat-related deaths of children left in cars this year: http://www.ggweather.com/heat/hyperthermia2013.htm

The St. Louis area has seen several heatstroke deaths of children left in vehicles in recent years.

In 2007, a pediatrician and her husband had started a new morning routine the day they left their 7-month-old baby girl in a hot car. The mother apparently thought her husband knew to take the baby to the day-care center on the medical school's campus. The father told police he didn't see the baby in the back seat.

Sophia Knutsden died of hyperthermia within an hour. The temperature outside topped out at 95 degrees that day. Experts said the car's interior could have reached 140. The St. Louis circuit attorney's office never charged either parent with a crime.

Outside the home on Joy Drive on Friday morning, a police officer was standing guard. Two vehicles were in the gravel driveway, a pickup and a Hyundai Elantra that apparently was brought back to the scene Friday morning. No one answered the phone at the single-story house with yellow siding. On the side yard was a blue plastic kiddie pool and a soccer ball. The parents could not be reached, nor any relatives.