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With surging temperatures, Valley officials warn about hot car deaths

PHOENIX — As a thermometer surpassed 120 degrees on the dashboard of a car, Phoenix Fire Captain Rob McDade painted a gruesome picture of what hot car deaths feel and look like in the Valley.

With an excessive heat warning in effect for Central Arizona and June beginning Monday, public safety officials gave a reminder Wednesday about how quickly a person or animal can die from being left in a car.

“First responders go on these calls and see how traumatic they are for the families involved, the friends, and community,” McDade said. “If you don’t think it can happen to you, we want to pass this message on: It can happen to anyone.”

Last year, four kids in Arizona and 53 across the country died after being left in hot cars.

That was more than the annual average of 39 children, according to

Dawn Peabody, who was part of the presentation at the Phoenix Fire Training Academy grounds Wednesday, knows this firsthand.

For the past 10 years, Peabody has shared the story of her 2½-year-old daughter’s death caused by being in a hot car.

“I used to tell people my daughter died in a car accident,” Peabody added. “There was so much shame around what happened to Maya.”

She has dedicated recent years to spreading her message: “Look before you lock.”

Peabody shared a photo of her daughter and a reminder to always check the back seat. She is hopeful that by sharing her story, she can help avert this tragedy from happening to other families.

“The vehicle that normally would’ve reminded me that if I left my lights on, if I forget to put my seatbelt on … did nothing but act as an oven,” she said.

Public safety officials said these tragedies are preventable.

Under a state law passed in 2017, anyone who believes a child or animal in a hot vehicle is in “imminent danger” can break a window to get them out without fear of legal action.

“You can use whatever force necessary to remove a child or pet from a situation,” said Phoenix Police Sergeant Ann Justus. “You can break a window and you won’t be held liable as long as you are acting in good faith.”

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