Charleston police investigating child’s death in hot car outside of SC high school

A 16-month-old girl died Friday afternoon after her mother allegedly left her in a car outside of a Charleston-area high school.

The Charleston Police Department was called to the parking lot of Bishop England High School around 4 p.m. Friday after passersby noticed the infant unresponsive inside of a blue Subaru SUV.

As the outside temperatures in Daniel Island soared to over 93 degrees by late afternoon, investigators believe it was over 100 degrees inside the car.

At a press conference Friday evening, Berkely County Coroner Darnell Hartwell said it was believed the child had been in the car since 7:30 to 8 a.m. after the mother, an employee at the school, forgot to drop the child off at daycare.

“Unfortunately, this is a tragic accident at this period,” Hartwell said. “I can’t go back and second guess this mother, but again it’s just a tragic accident. We just need to slow down, pay attention a bit more.”

An autopsy is scheduled to take place at MUSC and investigators are working to determine how hot it would have been inside of the car, Hartwell said. But the coroner said that the child could only have survived for minutes inside of the car at those temperatures.

“I definitely feel confident that it was triple digits in that car at the peak time,” Hartwell said.

School officials at the private high school, which is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, canceled a planned football game against First Baptist on Friday night. All classes at the high school have been canceled for Monday, with the exception of an optional Mass for members of the school community.

Priests will be available for students, faculty and family members, Bishop England High School President Patrick Finneran wrote in an email to parents.

“We ask that you please keep this family and our school community in your prayers during this unspeakably difficult time,” Finneran wrote.

Nineteen children have died in “hot car deaths” in 2023, according to the National Safety Council. On average, 38 children a year die of heatstroke inside of cars. More than half of those deaths occur when a parent or caregiver forgets the child inside of the car, according to research from Jan Null, a meteorologist at San Jose State University.

This is the first recorded instance of a hot car death in South Carolina in 2023.

The interior temperatures of cars parked in the shade on a hot day exceeds 100 degrees, which can quickly be fatal to children who suffer heat stroke when their core temperatures reach 104 degrees, according to a study in the journal Temperature.