COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - During a press conference on Friday, the Richland County Coroner’s Office announced the death of a 4-year-old child in the state’s first hyperthermia death of 2019.
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts says Zion Akinrefon, of Maryland, was pronounced dead at a Midlands hospital on Wednesday of complications of probable hyperthermia.
Deputies responded to a call on Wednesday after Zion was found unresponsive at a home in Blythewood. By the time deputies arrived, the coroner’s office says, paramedics were performing CPR to the child, who was then rushed to the hospital.
Zion was in town visiting family members when his family started searching for him after his mother noticed he was not present, a news release said. He was later found unresponsive by his mother in the back of the family’s car around 5 p.m.
Zion was last seen watching TV before his mother noticed he was missing; the family believes he walked out of the side door of the home and got into the family’s SUV, accidentally got locked inside, and passed out of heatstroke.
“These kinds of incidents tug at my heartstrings,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says. “My deepest sympathies are with the family of this innocent child.”
At this time, no charges are being filed in this case and the sheriff’s department is treating this as “a horrific incident.”
Zion’s death marks the first hot car death in Richland County since 2015. So far, nine children across the U.S. have died due to hyperthermia.
In 2018, six children in South Carolina died of hyperthermia, and 52 children died of hyperthermia across the country, the most in 20 years. According to San Jose State University, who has been tracking hot car-related deaths since 1998, June and July are when officials see the highest number of hyperthermia-related deaths.
The release says, “Though most children who have died of hyperthermia have died [were] forgotten by a caregiver (54 percent), 26 percent gained access on their own to an unlocked vehicle.”
“A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s and their organs begin to shut down when their core body temperature reached 104 degrees,” Watts said. “Add in a vehicle [and] this can happen in 15 to 30 minutes.”
Both the coroner’s office and the sheriff’s department are stressing the importance of never leaving a child in a vehicle unattended - not even for a second.
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