Officials: Don't leave babies, pets in hot cars

·3 min read

Jul. 8—Area law enforcement want to remind parents and pet owners to not leave their children and pets inside a vehicle as a heat wave continues.

"Obviously in this heat, the inside of your car is going to heat up extremely fast once you exit," said McAlester Police Chief Kevin Hearod. "With the heat wave we've had this week, it's imperative to people to know not to leave their kid or their animals in the car."

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 916 children have died as a result from being trapped or left in a hot vehicle since 1998 — with 29 occurring in Oklahoma.

Both Hearod and Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris said that if a person sees a child or a pet that is in danger inside a vehicle to first call 911 before taking any action.

"If anybody sees something like that, be sure and call 911 and bust the window immediately and do whatever you got to do to save a life," Morris said.

"We'll take care of business when we get there," Hearod said.

A 2015 Oklahoma bill was signed into law stating that "anyone breaking into a locked vehicle to rescue a child cannot be sued" if certain stipulations were first met.

The stipulations included if the vehicle is locked and there is no way for the child to exit, 911 is contacted, and that no more force "than necessary under the circumstances" to enter the vehicle and remove the child were taken.

Oklahoma is not one of 11 states that has a law that protects a person from civil liability if a window is broken in order to rescue an animal.

District 18 District Attorney Chuck Sullivan said although his office will have to view any report made in a situation, he does not see a scenario where he would charge a good Samaritan.

"I can't predict how we'll respond without knowing all the facts of the case but it's hard to imagine a scenario where a person breaks a window as a last resort to grant relief to a pet or a child in a hot car that I would have any interest in charging them whatsoever."

Oklahoma in 2008 made it illegal to leave a child or a vulnerable adult unattended in a motor vehicle "if the conditions, including, but not limited to, extreme weather, inadequate ventilation, or hazardous or malfunctioning components within the vehicle present a risk to the health or safety of the unattended child or vulnerable adult."

The law is in addition to any possible charges that could arise if death or serious injuries occurs.

It is not considered a violation of the law if the child or vulnerable adult "is accompanied in the motor vehicle by a person at least 12 years of age who is not mentally incompetent."

If person who violates the law will be charged with a misdemeanor and if found guilty will be punished by a fine of not less than $50 dollars upon first conviction.

The fine rises to not less than $500 if the child or vulnerable adult is left unattended "on the premises of any establishment which holds any license for the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises" and the person or guardian "consumed any alcoholic beverage during the period of time the child or vulnerable adult has been unattended."

For pets, Oklahoma law states that a person can either be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony if a pet is left inside a hot vehicle.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com