Father suspected of murder and child cruelty after baby left alone in car

By Drum Digital
07 July 2014

The world has been horrified by the details of the Justin Ross Harris case. He left his 22-month-old son in a car for hours and the child died. Earlier this year South Africans were shocked when three children, aged four, six and 10, were found dead in their parents’ car in Mahikeng, North West province. They’d allegedly been left alone for only 20 minutes.

The world has been horrified by the details of the Justin Ross Harris case. He left his 22-month-old son in a car for hours and the child died. Justin’s application for parole failed last week after a judge found there was reason to charge him with murder and child cruelty.

In South Africa

Earlier this year South Africans were shocked when three children, aged four, six and 10, were found dead in their parents’ car in Mahikeng, North West province. They’d allegedly been left alone for only 20 minutes. Read more here.

There might be less chance of suffering from sunstroke in a car at the moment as it is winter, but police warn parents never to leave their children alone in a car.

What happens in a hot car?

In January 2012 journalist Petro-Anne Vlok spent 40 minutes in a hot car to find out exactly what happens to you. We share her first-hand experience: “It’s like trying to get a breath of fresh air in a sauna. It’s unbearably hot inside the car. I feel light-headed and queasy and struggle to concentrate. I hold out my hands. I can’t stop them from shaking. My clothes are already drenched in sweat and I don’t think I have any moisture left in my body. I wipe my forehead but I’m sweating again barely a minute later.

“It’s been only 30 minutes since I got into the silver car parked here in Cape Town. The outside temperature is 34 °C but a light breeze keeps things bearable. Inside the car it’s a blistering 63 °C and it’s rising each minute. At 67 °C I display some of the symptoms associated with heat exhaustion – intense thirst, dizziness, nausea and an irregular heartbeat. For a child this can be fatal.

“In my case it took 38 minutes but research has shown on days hotter than 35 °C it can take just 15 minutes for the temperature inside a car to reach 67 °C.”

“A child could die if left in that temperature,” says Dr Willem Smit, a Cape Town paediatrician. “They could have a multisystem organ collapse.”

Should a child be lucky enough to survive they could suffer permanent brain damage or kidney failure. Even on relatively cool, sunny days when the temperature doesn’t go above 24 °C the inside of a car can reach 47 °C in an hour, with 80 per cent of the temperature rise happening in the first 30 minutes.

It’s an undeniable fact: a parent who leaves a child in the car on a hot day to quickly pop into a shop to pick up some groceries is risking their child’s life.

Extra sources: time.com, ER24.co.za, health24.com

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