A pediatrician said Monday that infants, because of their undeveloped sweat glands, can die in as little as 15 minutes if left inside a closed car on a hot day.
Dr. Barbara Petty, who practices in Mission Viejo, said the death of 3-month-old twins in Garden Grove Sunday was a textbook example of the danger of leaving infants in locked cars.
Police estimated Monday that Adam and Ashley Ernst were in the car at least an hour before they were taken out of the vehicle by their mother, Beverly Jean Ernst, and paramedics called to the scene Sunday.
"That was more than enough time to kill them. I doubt that the babies would have been in terrible trouble in five minutes, but I'd say they probably died near 15 minutes," Petty said.
The mother is being held in Orange County Jail and is expected to be arraigned today on charges of manslaughter and willful cruelty to children resulting in death.
"Certainly any situation that raises temperatures of infants is very dangerous because they have much lower sweating rates," she said. "They do not have the capability of sweating the heat from their bodies that an adult has."
Petty said that infants' sweat glands are not totally developed and that they cannot be exposed to temperatures exceeding 110 degrees for more than a few minutes. Paramedics who responded to the call on Sunday estimated the temperature inside the car at 120 degrees.
Dr. Robert L. Rooks, a Fountain Valley veterinarian, said even a dog probably would have died in the same time the Ernst twins succumbed to the heat.
Window Magnifies Heat
"Those temperatures go sky high in no time. Dogs don't sweat, they pant. In those temperatures, a dog could last half an hour. But a dog is liable to get excited, and if that happens, it could last only 15 minutes in extreme heat of close to 130 degrees," he said.
Even cracking a window does not alleviate the quickly soaring temperatures inside a parked car, Rooks said, because "a window acts like a magnifying glass and it attracts the heat."
Pediatrician Petty said she cautions parents to have water available for their infants when the summer's hot weather arrives.
"Sweat loss can be quite remarkable with small children in hot climates," she said.