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By the time a Georgia father realized he had left his toddler strapped in a car seat inside a steaming-hot SUV all day Wednesday, it was too late. The 22-month-old was dead.
That father’s horrific realization turned into a frantic race to revive the child in the parking lot of a busy metro Atlanta shopping center Wednesday afternoon. The distraught man, whose name was not released, had to be handcuffed by arriving officers as witnesses and then paramedics administered CPR, according to Cobb County police.
“What have I done? What have I done?” witnesses heard the man scream. “I’ve killed our child.”
The toddler was supposed to have been dropped off at daycare Wednesday morning, sometime between 8:30 and 9 a.m., according to police Sgt. Dana Pierce. Instead, the child was left in the backseat of a Hyundai Tucson, and the father went to work, Pierce said. The father told police he somehow forgot his child was in the backseat of the four-door SUV, but police released no explanation for how the toddler was overlooked. The child, whose name and gender were not released, was pronounced dead at the scene by the Cobb County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Wednesday’s death is the second in two days involving children left in cars, coming one day after a 9-month-old Florida girl died after being left in her father’s pickup truck, according to reports. The Georgia child is believed to be the 14th to die from heatstroke inside a vehicle this year in the United States, according to KidsAndCars.org, which tracks fatalities involving children and vehicles. Last year, 43 children died after being left in vehicles, according to the Department of Earth and Climate Sciences at San Francisco State University.
High temperatures Wednesday reached the low 90s. Within 10 minutes of being inside a closed vehicle, temperatures inside can rise an average of 19 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Shortly after 4 p.m., the man was leaving an office when he realized his child was in medical distress, according to police. He turned into a nearby shopping center, screamed for help and called 911.
“Apparently, he forgot the child was in the car seat,” Pierce said at the scene. “When the father discovered the 22-month-old in the backseat, he immediately got out of the car.”
Witnesses rushed to the SUV and began administering CPR, seconds before both police officers and firefighters arrived at the scene. Several officers were already patrolling the area at the time, Pierce said. One witness, Dale Hamilton, said he initially thought the child was choking, but quickly learned otherwise.
“He pulled him out, laid him on the ground, and tried to resuscitate him,” Hamilton said.
Restaurant patrons and others in the shopping center gathered on the sidewalks, hoping for the best. It didn’t happen.
“He was lifeless, he was in the same position as if he were sitting in the car seat,” Hamilton said. “It’s something that I’ll remember for a long time.”
While officers investigated the child’s death, the father was driven away from the shopping center in the back of a patrol car. He was taken to police headquarters for questioning, Pierce said. It was not known late Wednesday if any charges would be filed.
— Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Dan Klepal contributed to this report.