Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2017

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As summer approaches, painful reminders abound about deadly heatstroke


Sam Morris

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator David Strickland gives an interview during a news conference and demonstration on the dangers of leaving children in a closed car Thursday, May 23, 2013.

It took 15 minutes for the trunk of Jody Esposito’s car to turn from a good spot for hide-and-seek to an overheated deathtrap on May 6, 2001. Fifteen minutes is all it took for Jody Esposito to realize that Michael Esposito, her 5-year-old son, was missing from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. By the time she checked her car, she found Michael unconscious, on his side with orange vomit dripping out of his mouth.

Four days later, Jody Esposito made the decision to cut off Michael’s life support.

“It was the most unbearable choice we ever made in our lives,” Jody Esposito said. “To let our child go, and for us to live a lifetime of grief.”

Since 1998, more than 11 children have died here from vehicular-related heatstroke, with countless more injured. Those numbers help make Nevada the fourth-deadliest state for automobile-related child heatstroke per capita.

And even though the state hasn’t had a vehicular heatstroke death since 2008, public safety advocates and concerned parents such as those attending Thursday’s news conference in front of Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center aren’t resting easy. Tragedy for any child, after all, can be only 15 minutes away.

Heatstroke, also known as hyperthermia, occurs when a person’s body temperature exceeds 104 degrees, overwhelming the body and causing dizziness, sluggishness and loss of consciousness, researcher Jan Null said. Body temperatures exceeding 107 degrees are considered fatal, he said.

Children’s bodies are not completely developed and can heat up at a much faster rate than adults. Combined with the rapid rate at which cars can heat up in the summer, fatal conditions for infants and children can be created within minutes, Null said.

David Strickland, administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was one of several officials and activists who spoke Thursday to raise awareness about car-related heatstroke. Strickland said Southern and Western states face additional challenges because of the extreme weather.

“Sun Belt states see greater numbers of heatstroke deaths,” he said. “The margin of error here in Nevada is especially small.”

And the consequences for leaving children unattended in vehicles have become more severe in Nevada, which in 2003 joined 19 other states in making the act of leaving a child in a vehicle unattended a misdemeanor offense.

But depending on the circumstances, the punishment for negligence in hyperthermia deaths can be much harsher. Las Vegas couple Stanley and Colleen Rimer were imprisoned for the death of their 4-year-old mentally disabled son in 2008. The boy was left in the family’s SUV for more than 13 hours.

Click to enlarge photo

Colleen Rimer and Stanley Rimer

In handing out the sentence, Judge Douglas Herndon chastised Stanley Rimer for allowing his son to suffer.

“You can say all you want right now,” Herndon said to Rimer. “But those actions speak louder than anything else. You left his body in that car for 13-some odd hours to roast in the sun. …”

Stanley Rimer was sentenced in 2011 to eight to 30 years in prison. Colleen Rimer was sentenced to five to 20 years.

Strickland said that most of the time, parents of heatstroke-afflicted children had no ill intent. But it’s still important for parents to keep their children as safe as possible, he said.

“Sometimes it’s one break in the chain, and that can be the difference in life and death,” Strickland said.

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