ST. GEORGE — A 2-year-old left in the back seat of a vehicle for an estimated six hours died over the weekend of suspected heat exposure.
The child was found deceased in the back seat of "a coach-style van" about 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the Winchester Hills subdivision near St. George, the Washington County Sheriff's Office said. The name of the boy has not been released.
The outside temperature in St. George at that time was approximately 106 degrees.
Detectives estimated the child had been in the car for at least six hours, based on interviews with witnesses and family members, the sheriff's office said in a prepared statement.
The incident happened while several families from out of state were attending a family reunion. The reunion consisted of more than five families and 25 to 30 children, the sheriff's office said.
The families had traveled to St. George using multiple vehicles. When they returned to the Winchester Hills area, the adults prepared "for a religious meeting" in St. George, according to the statement.
"It was suspected the child had fallen asleep during the return trip and did not exit the vehicle with the other children and adults. This was unknown to the adults as they prepared for their meeting. As the adult family members returned home, they noticed the child was not present and began searching the residence and surrounding areas. The child was then discovered by the father in the van," the sheriff's office stated.
Investigators said the incident appears to be "a tragic accident." It will be screened by the Washington County Attorney's Office as a matter of protocol, the sheriff's office said.
More than 800 children have died from heat stroke in hot cars since 1990, according to the nonprofit group kidsandcars.org. Through June 14, the group reported there had been 12 deaths of children left in vehicles so far this year. Those numbers did not include the St. George case or a Texas woman arrested last week for allegedly leaving her 2-year-old daughter and 16-month-old son in a hot car to teach them a lesson. Both children died.
Utah had 10 children die from heat stroke after being left inside cars in 2013, according to the group. Nationwide there were 716 such fatalities, with Texas being the only state that topped 100 deaths.
Earlier this month, Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Peter King, R-N.Y., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., reintroduced the Hot Cars Act to ensure that an alert system is standard in every car to prevent these tragedies.
According to the Kids and Cars website, there are at least four such devices already on the market. One is called Sensorsafe and is designed to let a driver know if a child is still in a child seat when the car is turned off.
General Motors has also developed a Rear Seat Reminder “designed to remind drivers to check the back seat as they exit their vehicle under certain circumstances. The feature is intended to activate when either rear door is opened and closed within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started, or if they are opened and closed while the vehicle is running," according to the website.
Another product called Driver's Little Helper is "a car seat monitor that works with any car seat and syncs with your smartphone to provide key alerts about the comfort and safety of your child. Our rear seat reminder will let you know if your child is too hot, too cold, escaping their seat or when it's time to get your child out of the car," according to the company's website.
Another app called Waze is designed to remind drivers to check their back seats when they reach their destinations.
Kidsandcars.org also recommends that parents always look at their back seat whenever they get out of the car. To get in that habit, the group recommends parents leave a purse or briefcase in the back seat that they need to retrieve whenever they get to work or out of the car.
The website Parents Central even recommends keeping a stuffed animal or other memento in your child’s car seat when it’s empty, and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat.
A car’s temperature can rise over 20 degrees in 10 minutes, according to the group.
"Even at an outside temperature of 60 degrees, the temperature inside your car can reach 110 degrees," the website states. "A child dies when his/her body temperature reaches 107 degrees."
Doctors say heat stroke can occur when a person's body temperature exceeds 104 degrees, and children's thermoregulatory systems warm three to five times faster than an adult’s.
Leaving a window cracked open, according to safety experts, has little effect.
Contributing: Annie Knox