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Infant left alone in vehicle dies

(Stace Hall/KSL)

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HURRICANE — An infant died after being left alone in a vehicle for a "substantial period of time" Friday afternoon, police said.

Police officers and emergency responders were dispatched to an area near 50 E. 480 North around 1 p.m. after people in the area saw a child in the a vehicle, according to Hurricane City Police Sgt. Brandon Buell. When police arrived, infant was unresponsive, Buell said.

Police discovered the 11-month-old female was not breathing and she was transported by Life Flight to Dixie Regional Medical Center. The infant later died.

Buell said it is unknown how hot the interior of the vehicle was at the time of the incident, but the infant had been left inside the vehicle in her car seat "for a substantial period of time" with the windows rolled up and the car off.

The high temperature in Hurricane on Friday was 97 degrees, according the KSL meteorologists.

The infant was flown to the Dixie Regional Medical Center where she was pronounced dead.

The incident did involve a relative, police said.

“This incident is very tragic and our hearts go out to those involved, especially the family,” Buell said. “The temperature in a vehicle can rise substantially very quickly, which makes it a very dangerous situation.”

A neighbor that lives on the same street said she knows the family where the car was parked, but the baby did not live at that home.

The Medical Examiner's Office will be conducting an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

An autopsy has been ordered, and police are investigating the death, Buell said.

The girl's death comes one day after a nationwide awareness push about the dangers hot weather. As of Thursday, National Heatstroke Prevention Day, 19 children had died of heatstroke in 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The campaign turned to social media, using hashtags to remind drivers to #checkforbaby and warning that #heatstrokekills.

Representatives from Primary Children's Hospital confirmed Friday the girl's death is the first hot car death in Utah since 2008.

In a live demonstration on KSL-TV Thursday, Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Marc Morger urged Utahns to call 911 if they encounter a child in a hot vehicle. They should then look around for the vehicle's owner to unlock the door.

"You want to visualize the occupant, making sure they're not in any distress," Morger said. "If they are in distress, we'd like you to break the window."

A car window can be broken by striking the corner with a window punch, a small tool that can be carried in a car or purse, he said. Under good Samaritan laws, a person who breaks out a car window to help a child in distress would not face criminal charges, Morger said.

Charles Pruitt, an emergency room doctor at Primary Children's Hospital, said his heart breaks when he hears of a child left in a hot car, a call that he estimates the Unified Fire Department in Salt Lake County gets up to 1,000 times each year. Some of those children end up in his care.

Children can suffer permanent damage in minutes, Pruitt said.

"Symptoms of heat stroke can begin at about 105 to 107 degrees. And if you can imagine a child that you've ever seen with a high fever, they're very irritable. They cry. They're fussy," he said. "It gets much worse, unfortunately. The brain starts to heat up and the child becomes inconsolable, and that can lead to seizures."

As the child remains in the heat, he or she will become lethargic.

"They can't be aroused, and unfortunately death is not far at that point," Pruitt said.

He reminded Utahns it's a misdemeanor in the state to leave children in hot cars. The temperature inside of a vehicle can rise 19 degrees in 10 minutes or less, he said.

"It's just not safe, even if you only think you're going to be gone for a few minutes. Sometimes that few minutes turns into more than a few minutes. That simple errand turns into a long line at the store. "Please, don't ever leave your child alone in a vehicle," Pruitt said. "It breaks my heart. It's entirely preventable. It just shouldn't happen."

Contributing: Ashley Kewish and Betsy Tracy

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