FORT KNOX, Ky. — Anybody who has lived through even one of the dog days of summer in the Southwest knows how hot it can get there. Daytime temperatures can hit the triple digits for weeks or more, especially in June and July.

Six years ago on July 25, I was living and working in Eastern New Mexico when the unthinkable happened: a mother-daughter daycare in our town forgot about two toddlers.

The ladies had taken all the children they were caring for to a park that morning. When they returned, they offloaded the children from their van and led them back inside the daycare – all except for two girls sitting in the back.

Those two precious children sat strapped in their car seats for over 2 ½ hours in the hot July sun before somebody remembered them. Prosecutors later told a jury that the outside temperatures had reached into the 90s that day.

When the two caregivers finally discovered the girls missing, it was too late. They called emergency services, who rushed both girls to the town’s hospital where one was later pronounced dead. The other girl was flown to a larger hospital in Lubbock and miraculously lived, but not without suffering severe damage.

This never had to happen.

Never forget the potentially destructive force of summer heat
Experts at say even when outdoor temperatures are only 73 degrees Fahrenheit, the inside of a car can reach 100 degrees in 25 minutes. They urge motorists to never leave pets or children inside of a hot car. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

I remember well how the town folk and those in the neighboring town reacted to the news. Many were stunned and horrified. In the little town, many knew the two women who ran the daycare. Many also knew the two families who suffered the trauma of loss.

It was not surprising that the one girl, aged 22 months, had died. Frankly, who could survive that long in that amount of heat? The shock was learning that the other girl – a 3-year-old – had somehow survived. Many though assumed the girl would suffer mental issues for the rest of her life.

Statistics reveal that more than 37 children die every year in hot cars. THIRTY-SEVEN! In many of those cases it’s not a stranger who leaves the child abandoned in the car; it’s often close family members.

Officials from the Kids and Cars safety organization say July is the deadliest month for this, and it can happen anywhere. The children die by what safety officials call vehicular heatstroke, or hyperthermia. Younger children are at greater risk, and their deaths range from being forgotten in hot cars to accidentally locking themselves in one.

According to a nonprofit organization called No Heatstroke, over 951 children have died from vehicular heatstroke since 1998, with the highest recorded deaths occurring in 2018 and 2019 – both at 53. So far this year, 11 children have died.

Experts at say even when outdoor temperatures are only 73 degrees Fahrenheit, the inside of a car can reach 100 degrees within 25 minutes.

The most shocking part is just how easy it can be to forget your child:

You’re running late as you pull into your office workspace. Because it’s summer, your kid is out of school. Because you’re running late and your spouse usually drops the child off at the daycare center, it doesn’t cross your mind to head over there first. You jump out with seconds to spare and head to work, mind focused on not being late. It never dawns on you that your child is in the backseat.

Think that couldn’t happen to you? But it has happened.

Fort Knox Safety specialist Bobby Jenkins suggests that motorists who transport their children anywhere should always place a purse, or lunch bag or something that they would need to grab in the backseat with the child. This could be the difference between life and death.

“Double check. If you’re a parent that’s normally not dropping your kid off at the daycare, make sure you always look in the backseat,” said Jenkins. “Don’t assume you’re going to go into a store and be back out in two minutes and leave your child in the car. Something may happen and you may not get back to them.

“Go to the trouble of unstrapping them and putting them back in; it’s worth the effort.”

Never forget the potentially destructive force of summer heat
(Photo Credit: Courtesy of CDC) VIEW ORIGINAL

I left Eastern New Mexico with my family in September 2017 and traveled to Central Kentucky for a new job. We left not even two months after the incident had happened. Emotions were raw and sometimes almost volatile among the residents.

Nearly two years after their arrest, the two women were each convicted of child abuse resulting in death and great bodily harm. A court sentenced each to 36 years in prison. Two families and their friends are forever devastated by such costly negligence. The mother of the girl who died struggled with severe depression and moved away.

This never has to happen again.