JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — Authorities in Florida said a toddler died after being left inside a hot vehicle in a church parking lot on Tuesday, the latest child added to a tragic statistic across the United States.
Officers responded to Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Preschool at about 2:40 p.m. Tuesday in reference to a child found unresponsive. When officers arrived, they found the toddler dead outside the property, according to the Jacksonville Beach Police Department
Jacksonville Beach police spokeswoman Tonya Tator confirmed with the Florida Times-Union, part of the USA TODAY Network, that the investigation revealed the child, a 2-year-old, was left in a personal vehicle in the parking lot of the church.
It's unclear if the incident was accidental and no one is currently detained, according to the police department.
"This is a great tragedy," Tator said, according to WJAX-TV. "It affects everybody, it affects not only the parishioners, but it affects the community, it affects the officers."
The case is one of several across the country this year where young kids have lost their lives in hot cars when being left behind by their parents or guardians.
Seven children have died in a hot car in Florida this year, according to Kids and Car Safety.
24th child to die in a hot car nationwide in 2023
The latest tragic death — the 24th child to die in a hot car nationwide this year, according to Kids and Car Safety — is leading child safety advocates to elevate demands for auto companies to build detection devices in vehicles. The proposed devices could make it so that drivers are alerted before leaving their cars to check their back seats for their children.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is required to enact a rule mandating the alert system in new cars by November per the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Jannette Fennell, the founder and CEO of Kids and Car Safety, says it couldn't come soon enough.
"Automakers do not have to wait for the final regulation to be issued requiring technology; they can add occupant detection technology to their vehicles today," wrote Fennell in a news release. "And occupant detection and alert system could have gotten assistance to this sweet angel before it was too late."
Heat waves have made it more dangerous. Hot car deaths in 2023.
How can parents and guardians prevent hot car deaths?
Nationally, more than 1,050 children have died in hot cars since 1990, according to Kids And Cars Safety's database. About 87% of children who die in hot cars, according to the organization, are age 3 or younger and majority (56%) were unknowingly left by a parent or caregiver.
Temperatures are higher on average across the nation this year compared to years past, leaving kids especially vulnerable.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends a few ways that parents can prevent leaving their kids in their cars, especially on hot days:
Leave a necessary item they'll have to grab before walking away, like a phone or wallet, in the backseat of their car
Never leave a child in a vehicle unattended for any length of time.
Ask your childcare provider to call if your child doesn’t show up for care as expected; and
Write a note or place a stuffed animal in the passenger's seat to remind you that a child is in the back seat.
What can be done? Well-meaning parents' mistakes kill thousands of kids each year.
Contact Kayla Jimenez at email@example.com. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, at @kaylajjimenez.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hot car deaths 2023: 24 children have died in America this year