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St. Tammany Sheriff recruiting businesses to help stop hot car deaths

According to the National Safety Council, 38 children die each year from heatstroke after being left in a car.

ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — A child's temperature rises quickly if left in a hot car and it could be fatal — especially in this heat. 

In St. Tammany Parish, the sheriff's office is asking businesses to help their customers make sure they don't leave children or pets in their cars. With the record heat we've been seeing in south Louisiana, this is a critical message.

It's something that you think would never happen to you, but every year it does.

"The panic and concern in the parent's face is something I don't forget," said Larry Gillio, owner of Northshore Ace Hardware.

It was the panic of a mother who accidentally locked her child in a car on a hot day. It's burned into Gillio's mind years later. He remembers helping the distraught stranger at a gas station.

"I personally found a brick and broke the window open," he remembered.

It likely saved the child. 

St. Tammany Sheriff Randy Smith remembers an incident when he was called to Folsom 20 years ago when working as a deputy. On a hot day, a mother called 911 when she locked her keys and child in her car. Smith broke the window, getting the child out in time.

"The child was in tears and profusely sweating and screaming for help," Sheriff Smith said.

That's why you'll now see a sticker on Gillio's store front. It says, "Have you forgotten anything?" and includes a picture of a dog and car seat. It's a reminder for customers to check their back seats.

"I'm hoping it just jogs their memory and helps them think," Gillio said.

STPSO is now offering the stickers to businesses across the parish. They ordered 1,000 this week. Business owners can reach out to STPSO by phone or Facebook to request one for free.

According to the National Safety Council, 38 children die each year from heatstroke after being left in a car. In Louisiana, three children died just last year. That's why Sheriff Smith said he is taking this seriously.

"If we find a child or pet left in a car unattended in this kind of heat, there will be charges," Sheriff Smith said.

He also offered the following tips on Facebook to help you remember to always check your back seat for your child:

  • Put your purse or wallet in your back seat
  • Set an alarm on your phone around the time you get to work each day
  • Put the child's diaper bag in the front seat with you to use as a visible cue when you're getting out of your car
  • When your child is not in the car, leave a stuffed animal in their car seat. 
  • You can move it to the front when you buckle in your child as a visible cue.

"We see it every year throughout the country. It sounds like common sense, but then we are the ones called to the scene for a child or dog that’s expired from extreme heat," Sheriff Smith said.

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