Child dies in Ellicott City after being left in hot car
Police determine death was an accident
By Luke Broadwater
lbroadwater@patuxent.com

Posted 6/30/09
A 23-month-old Ellicott City girl died last week after being accidentally left in a car in front of her home for several hours.

Howard County Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said a parent inadvertently left the small girl unattended in the car seat of a vehicle parked at the family’s Ellicott City home on June 25 between about 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

A neighbor passing by saw the child and alerted paramedics, who responded to the scene, Llewellyn said. The girl was pronounced dead at the scene.

Llewellyn said police have determined the death was an accident and have no plans to file charges.

“We have not found anything criminal and we don’t anticipate filing charges,” Llewellyn said Tuesday.

Police would not release the identity of the child nor the parent who left the child in the car. Llewellyn said police also would not release the neighborhood or block where the death occurred, and added that the parent involved is not a suspect in any way.

“The investigation to this point has revealed there was a change in routine for one of the child’s parents,” Llewellyn said. “It was not a typical morning for the parent.”

She declined to elaborate.

Police said they were waiting on the results of an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

Though often much-publicized, incidents of children dying while left alone in cars are rare, according to Jan Null, an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University, who studies hyperthermia deaths of children left in automobiles. He said the Ellicott City death is the 15th reported such case in the country this year. For each of the 10 years before this year, the number varied from 30 to 47, he said.

Null said the temperature in Ellicott City that morning began at 43 degrees but rose to 86 degrees, meaning the temperature inside the vehicle was 130 degrees.

“A dashboard on an 86-degree day is going to be 180 degrees,” he said. “A car is the ultimate greenhouse.”

Hyperthermia, or heatstroke, occurs when a person’s temperature exceeds 104 degrees and his thermoregulatory mechanism is overwhelmed, Null said. A core body temperature of 107 degrees is considered lethal, as cells are damaged and internal organs shut down, he added.

“Small children warm three to five times quicker than adults,” Null said. “Their system is not as efficient at cooling itself. Their systems become overwhelmed.”

Null’s nationwide study of 361 heat stroke deaths of children in cars revealed 51 percent of such deaths were caused by a caregiver forgetting the child was in the car and 30 percent were caused by a child playing in an unattended car.

In about half of such deaths, 49 percent, prosecutors decided to file criminal charges, he said.

“It varies from jurisdiction based on the attitudes of the community and the prosecutors,” he said.