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Cabinet Members Preach 'Look Before You Lock'

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hold press conference in Alexandria about the dangers of leaving children unattended in vehicles.

Two members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet held a press conference at the Campagna Center’s on Friday morning to bring attention to a string of recent child deaths due to heatstroke.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged Head Start and childcare providers around the country to be alert to the dangers of leaving children unattended in vehicles and promote a campaign titled “Look Before You Lock.”

In the first week of August, eight children across the country died from heatstroke. At least 23 child deaths and an unknown number of injuries have occurred this summer due to hyperthermia.

“This campaign is about giving adults information and tools they can use to help make sure they don’t forget about the children in their care—or accidentally leave a sleeping child, too small to be seen in the rearview mirror, in a van or bus used in a preschool program,” Sebelius said.

LaHood and Sebelius sent a joint letter to caregivers and administrators in early childhood programs to enlist them as partners in the “Look Before You Lock” campaign. HHS will launch a nationwide training program over the next year for Head Start and other childcare and education providers focused on transportation safety.

LaHood said hyperthermia deaths are “100 percent preventable” and that the majority of them are accidents. These accidents can happen “to even the most loving and conscientious of parents and caregivers,” he said.

Florida resident Reginald McKinnon spoke of how the morning of March 8, 2010, his routine was broken when he took his 17-month-old daughter to a doctor’s appointment. He forgot about her in the backseat of his SUV and headed to work. She died of heatstroke as the temperature inside the vehicle rose to dangerous levels.

“How could I forget my child?” McKinnon asked, adding that before his daughter’s death he thought these tragedies happened only to uneducated or drug-addicted parents. “And regardless of the painful hours of soul searching, therapy and prayer, it’s a question that remains unanswered.”

With outside temperatures in the low 80s, temperatures inside vehicles can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes. A child’s body can overheat as much as five times faster than an adult, and kids under 4 are at the greatest risk of heat-related illness.

After the press conference, the Alexandria Fire Department held a demonstration of a 911 call to a vehicle with a child locked inside.

The event was attended by Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, Vice Mayor Kerry Donley, Councilwoman Del Pepper and many Alexandria police, fire and school officials.

“It’s evident by the turnout here today that Alexandria is a city that cares about the safety of its children,” said Dr. Tammy Mann, president of the Campagna Center.

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