McALLEN — Strangers in a grocery store parking lot here rescued an 11-month-old boy from a locked car after being left unattended for nearly half an hour on Monday.
That afternoon, at about 4 p.m., the National Weather Service in Brownsville recorded temperatures reaching a high of 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to KidsandCars.Org, or KAC, a national nonprofit child safety organization dedicated to preventing injuries and death to children in and around motor vehicles, more than 30 kids have died as a result of being left inside a hot car so far this year.
Last year, more than 50 kids died as a result of being left unattended in a hot car, according to the organization’s website.
After grocery store employees and customers tracked her down, the baby’s mother, Rosa Isela Garza, told police she merely got distracted after running into a friend in the store’s parking lot, and forgot she had her boy inside her car, in the backseat.
Moments earlier, employees of the H-E-B in the 3200 block of 10th Street, and customers who reported seeing the baby in the locked car, struggled to find a way to get the child out.
“(The H-E-B employee) stated for 20 minutes they attempted to open the vehicle until an unknown male came with a tool and opened the vehicle,” the complaint read. “Several store employees advised (police officers) that they were paging the owner of the vehicle to see if they could locate the mother of the child.”
At about 4:37 p.m., officers located Garza inside shopping.
“(Garza) stated she was inside the store for approximately 25 minutes shopping,” the complaint read. “(She) stated that when she arrived at the store, she noticed a friend of hers in the parking lot and started to talk to them. (She) said she then walked inside the store and completely forgot that she had her child in the backseat.”
When the first McAllen police officer arrived on the scene at roughly 4:28 p.m., he observed the child being taken out of the woman’s Ford Expedition.
The officer made notes in his report about the child’s condition shortly after being pulled out of the vehicle.
“I observed (the child) was soaking wet from sweat, and his body temperature was hot to the touch,” the complaint read. “I also noticed (the child) was extremely dehydrated and was very weak.”
The 11-month-old boy was transported to a local hospital and later released, diagnosed with heat exhaustion and placed in the care of a relative.
The boy’s mother, was arrested and charged with a state jail felony endangerment offense.
Garza posted a $1,500 bond and was released from custody Tuesday, Hidalgo County jail officials said.
If convicted of the child endangerment charge, a state jail felony, Garza could face up to two years in jail and a possible $10,000 fine.
In light of the alarming incident, Driscoll Children’s Hospital officials held a public safety presentation at a medical plaza in McAllen.
Karen Beard, injury prevention training coordinator for Driscoll Children’s Hospital, discussed ways to avoid incidents like the one involving the 38-year-old McAllen woman.
Beard’s presentation focused on the dangers of heatstroke as a result of leaving children in hot vehicles.
The coordinator demonstrated how after only 20 minutes, the heat inside a locked vehicle can skyrocket.
Beard pointed an infrared heat thermometer at the inside of a vehicle she parked only 20 minutes prior, showing that the inside of the vehicle was between 140 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature outside at around noon on Friday was 93 degrees Fahrenheit.
She said forgetting a child in a locked car can affect anyone, it does not matter if you’re rich, poor, educated or not, it’s something she hears at least once a week.
She said that outside of crashes, heatstroke is the top vehicle-related killer of children in the country.
“As outside temperatures rise, the risk of children dying from vehicular heatstroke increases,” Beard said. “One child dies from heatstroke nearly every 10 days in the United States from being left in a car or crawling into an unlocked vehicle.”
Last year, according to Driscoll officials, there were 52 preventable deaths of children in vehicles, a more than 20% increase from 2017.
Some helpful tips include placing items that you need for your next destination in the backseat, like a purse, making arrangements with daycare to call the parent if the child isn’t present as they normally would be, and another tip would be to “walk your car,” making sure to check inside and out.
“So at least maybe we’ve cut out some time that the child was in the car. But take precautions, give your child your phone,” Beard said. “Even if your child is not with you, put something in your backseat, and make it a routine.”