‘Tragic mistake.’ 2-year-old dies in hot car in NC as some fear continued rise in cases

A 2-year-old died after being left in a hot car outside of a North Carolina industrial plant on Thursday, police said.

The toddler was found about 4:15 p.m. in the car at Industrial Fabricators Inc. on York Road, south of Gastonia, according to the Gaston County Police Department.

The death “appears to be a ‘tragic mistake,’ ” Gaston County Police Capt. Billy Downey told Observer news partner WBTV. No charges have been filed, although police continue to investigate the circumstances, according to the station.

Police have yet to interview the worker who left the child in the car and co-workers and others who might know more about what happened, WSOC-TV reported.

The toddler is the fifth child to die in a hot car in the U.S. this year, according to the national Kids and Car Safety advocacy group. There were 26 deaths in 2020, but 53 in 2019 and 54 in 2018, the most fatalities in a year, the group website shows.

North Carolina ranks seventh in child hot car deaths, according to the organization. Since 1991, 39 children 14 and under have died in hot cars in the state, according to figures from the group.

Nationally, nearly 1,000 children have died in hot cars since 1999, Kids and Car Safety reported.

“While education and awareness about hot car deaths is at an all-time high, the number of children that continue to die in hot cars continues to trend upwards,” Amber Rollins, director of Kids and Car Safety, said in a statement on Friday.

“Education and awareness are not enough,” she said. “The technology exists to prevent these unthinkable tragedies. What are we waiting for?”

The technology includes “highly sensitive in-car radar systems” that can even detect the breaths of a baby and send an alert to the caregiver, according to Consumer Reports.

A U.S. House bill titled the Hot Cars Act would make such technology standard equipment in all vehicles. The bill passed in the House last session but needs Senate approval, according to Kid’s and Car Safety.

Advocates fear cases could continue to rise as more workers return to job sites given declining COVID-19 case counts and higher vaccination rates.

“With families getting back into the workplace and schedules continuing to shift, Kids and Car Safety is very concerned there could be a rise in the number of children who die in hot cars this summer,” according to the organization’s statement.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.

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