Congratulations to 12-year-old Ben Theriot, who acted quickly last week to rescue a baby from the back of a car in the hot Oklahoma sun.
Theriot and his mother were on their way to buy back-to-school shoes near 41st Street and Yale Avenue when his mother heard a baby screaming in a parked car.
Through the car’s windows, they could see a red-faced, crying baby buckled into a car seat in the back of the car. The car was turned off, and all of its windows were rolled up. That’s the makings of a quick tragedy.
They called 911, but decided the emergency couldn’t wait for police to arrive. Ben broke through the windshield, unlocked the door and got the child out. A Tulsa Police spokeswoman said the baby was checked by medical professionals and did not suffer injury. After the mother was found, she was ticketed and the case was referred to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Things could have turned out much worse.
No Heat Stroke, which tracks pediatric heatstroke deaths, reports that 829 children have died of excessive heat in cars since 1998; 53 of those deaths were last year, including two in Oklahoma.
All of those tragedies could have been avoided, but it’s hard to imagine that any of them involved malicious acts by anyone involved.
A recent column in The Washington Post reports that in a little more than half of the deaths, children have been mistakenly left alone by their caregiver, in what is known as Forgotten Baby Syndrome.
Current best practices for child car safety seats have children placed in the back seat facing away from drivers, which is good for collision safety, but removes that last visual reminder for a driver getting out of the car — eye contact in the rearview mirror.
The Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Telluride have alert systems that activate when the engine is turned off and a passenger has been left behind, and legislation pending in Congress would mandate such systems.
Whatever comes out of Washington, there’s no better fail-safe than alert citizens like young Ben Theriot who are willing to act decisively when it counts. A child is alive today because he and his mother were paying attention and knew what to do.
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