HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — A 5-year-old boy died Monday after being left inside a vehicle for several hours, according to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.
A medical examiner on Tuesday identified him as Trace Means.
Gonzalez said the boy's family was preparing to celebrate his 8-year-old sister's birthday. The 5-year-old, his sister and his mother went to the store to get items for the party and when they came back home, the sheriff said the mother assumed both children had gotten out of the car on their own.
The mother told the sheriff the 5-year-old has gotten out of his car seat by himself before, but the sheriff believes because the family was in a rental vehicle, the child may not have known what to do.
The sheriff said the mother went into the house to prepare for the party and about two to three hours later, she started looking for her son.
The mother went to check the car and that's when she found him unresponsive, still buckled in his car seat, the sheriff said.
The mother immediately called 911, and when EMS arrived at the scene, they pronounced the child dead.
Amber Rollins, with the non-profit Kids and Car Safety, said Texas has the highest number of hot car deaths in the country. Nationwide, 56% of hot car deaths happen when a child is accidentally left in a car. Twenty-six percent when a child gets in themselves and can’t get out.
It doesn’t take long for a car to become an oven.
"Most people don’t realize that the majority of the increase in temperature inside of a car happens within the first 10 minutes," Rollins said. “Their little bodies heat up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult.”
Rollins says kids should know three things:
- How to honk the horn
- How to turn on flashers
- How to try a front door if they can’t get out of a back one
And parents should always make sure they’re looking in the back before they leave, no matter what, said Rollins.
"Our brains and our memory systems fail us when we least expect it.”
The investigation into the child's death is ongoing.
Earlier Monday, the Houston Fire Department chief warned of the heat and the dangers of leaving a child in a hot car.
As temperatures make their way to the triple digits, it's important to practice heat safety and recognize the signs of heat exhaustion.
“When you start noticing heat exhaustion -- which is just weakness, profuse sweating, your skin is wet, it’s cool -- you need to treat those symptoms,” said Porfirio Villarreal, a spokesperson for Houston Health Department. “You need to go inside an air-conditioned building, drink plenty of water, 'cause then if you do not treat that, then it progresses to heat exhaustion. That’s an emergency. You need to call 911.”
Villarreal said kids under the age of 4, adults older than 55, people who are overweight and those who have a heart or respiratory illness are most at risk.
According to the National Weather Service, heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths each year in the U.S.
We all know Houston summers can be brutally hot, and the heat becomes especially dangerous if it lingers for more than one day. If you're not prepared for it, you could become a victim to heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Tips to protect yourself from the heat
- If you have to be outside during the heat, wear light-colored, loose clothing. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and use sunscreen.
- If you’re working or exercising outside, limit activity to early morning or the evening when it’s cooler. Don't wait until you are thirsty to seek air conditioning. If you’re not at home, consider visiting malls, movie theaters or libraries.
- Water is the most important weapon against heat. Water is how your body stays cool by creating sweat from the water you drink. It's very important to stay properly hydrated on a hot Houston summer day.
- Check on your friends, family and neighbors during heat waves.