Each time Ashley Burnett leaves her car, her 2-year-old son, Malachi, is at her side.
“I can never forget Malachi,” Burnett said Thursday as she strapped her son in to a car seat in the parking lot of Central Square shopping center on 15th Street in Augusta.
As temperatures rise into the 90s, authorities are reminding motorists to never leave children unattended in vehicles.
On average, 38 children die in hot cars each year in the U.S., according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s one child lost every nine days.
Safety experts say 80 percent of such incidents are unintentional.
“It’s basically a lack of care to forget a child,” Burnett said. “As a parent, you have a commitment to your child to always know where they are at all times.”
The Augusta area has seen cases of children dying in hot vehicles in the past decade.
In 2010, a 6-year-old girl died in Columbia County after entering an unlocked car in her neighborhood and becoming trapped.
In 2006, a North Augusta woman was accused of leaving her 15-month-old son in a hot car all day while she was at work. The child died of heat stroke.
In 2005, while an Aiken man stood in an air-conditioned restaurant waiting for his steak and shrimp dinners, his 5-year-old twin boys and 17-month-old son sweltered in a locked car. An off-duty deputy from the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office spotted the children and called 911. They survived.
Studies show that when the temperature outside is 85 degrees, the temperature inside a parked car rises to 90 degrees within 5 minutes, 100 degrees within 10 minutes, and 120 degrees within 30 minutes.
At 104 degrees, a small child’s life is in danger.
“It’s just common sense,” Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Calvin Chew said of not leaving a child inside a vehicle.
Chew said deputies are trained to look for anything suspicious when patrolling parking lots, including children left unattended in vehicles. He urged anyone who sees a child in a hot car to call 911.
To help prevent hot-car deaths, the nonprofit organization Kids and Cars urges parents to put an important belonging in the back seat – a cellphone, employee badge or handbag – to force themselves to open the back door when leaving the vehicle. They also suggest storing a plush toy in a child’s car seat when it’s empty and moving it to the front seat after each trip as a reminder of the child in the back seat.
Although hot-car deaths have declined 33 percent since 2010, when it peaked at 49, four children already have died this year.