A Fort Worth father has been arrested for allegedly leaving his five children in a parked car with the engine running, but without air conditioning on Sunday,.
Officers said they found Jose Leal, 29, at 8 p.m. in the yard of a home and the five children, ages 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6, in the car nearby.
Several were either sleeping or passed out when officers pulled them from the car. They immediately placed them inside air conditioned squad cars.
Temperatures topped out at 99 degrees on Sunday. Police didn't say how long the children were left alone in the car.
Medics from MedStar, a Fort Worth ambulance service, determined that the children were suffering from heat exhaustion and needed to go to the hospital. Their condition wasn't known.
First responders said the consequences of leaving a child in a hot car are potentially devastating — even deadly.
"In temperatures like we're seeing right now in North Texas, the inside of that vehicle in a matter of minutes can go to 140, 150 degrees, which means that the body temperature of the child inside that car is going to go 104,105 degrees and the child's vital organs - the brain, the heart, the kidneys cannot function at that level of temperature," said MedStar's Matt Zavadsky.
Since May 1, MedStar crews have treated 14 patients found in hot cars within their Tarrant County service area. All were six years old or younger.
"We've had kids that have been left in shopping mall parking lots," Zavadsky said. "We've had kids that climbed into an unlocked vehicle and the parents didn't even know it."
There's been a significant uptick in these incidents this year, according to MedStar data.
"We've often wondered why there's been such an increase and we really think that it might just be a there a lot of people that have moved here that aren't used to this kind of weather, perhaps, and where they came from might not have been as hot," he said. "Secondly, parents today are very distracted."
Leal faces five counts of abandonment/endangerment to a child/bodily injury, and was brought to jail.
Tips from MedStar to help keep kids safe:
• Create a reminder to check the back seat.
• Put something you'll need like your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or brief case, etc., in the back seat so you have to open the back door to retrieve that item every time you park.
• Keep a large stuffed animal in the child's car seat. When the child is placed in the car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It's a visual reminder that the child is in the back seat.
• Keep car keys and remote openers out of the reach of children.
• If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. Call 911 immediately. If the child seems hot or sick, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
"These things can happen to anyone, so following those instructions are crucial, no matter who you are, how great of a parent you are, how great of a grandparent you are, or any caretaker," Zavadsky said. "Taking those simple steps will help prevent us having to respond to that type of call."
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