ST. GEORGE — A 2-year-old boy who died from suspected vehicular heatstroke in Washington County Saturday had been left in a family van for at least six hours as temperatures climbed to 105 degrees.
The toddler and his family had been visiting from Preston, Idaho, as part of a family reunion, Washington County Sheriff’s Lt. David Crouse said. More than five families and between 25-35 children had been temporarily staying at a residence in Winchester Hills for the reunion.
Using multiple vehicles, the families traveled to St. George Saturday morning for an activity before returning to the Winchester Hills residence at approximately 10:30 a.m., officials said.
“Based on the initial stages of this investigation, you have multiple family members there with multiple kids, sharing cousins, and the common theme was that, you know, everybody had a little of everybody else’s kids in the vehicle,” Crouse said.
The 2-year-old boy and several other children were passengers of a family-owned, coach-style van that was driven by a family member who was not the 2-year-old boy’s parents, Crouse said, adding that the child had not been placed in a car seat or child restraint device.
It is suspected that the 2-year-old child had fallen asleep during the return trip and did not exit the vehicle with the other children and adults, Crouse said, noting that this was not known to the adults as they prepared to go back to St. George to attend a “religious meeting” for adults.
The children remained in the care of several teenage children as well as an adult neighbor while the adults attended their meeting.
“Due to the (number) of children that were still going to be at the residence there, you know, the adults on scene felt like it was important enough to actually seek out additional child care responsibility,” Crouse said, “so, in addition to the older-teenage children that were in the home, another adult neighbor was asked to come over and help supervise the children.”
As the adult family members returned to the residence Saturday evening, they noticed the 2-year-old boy was not present, and they began searching the residence and surrounding areas. The boy was then discovered in the van by the father.
Law enforcement and emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene at approximately 6:34 p.m. Saturday. When first responders arrived on scene, they determined the child was deceased.
“At the time of the child’s discovery,” Crouse said, “it appears he had been in the vehicle for at least six hours based on the timeline established during interviews with witnesses and family members.”
While the incident appears to have been a “tragic accident,” the Sheriff’s Office said, the investigation is ongoing and will be screened by the Washington County Attorney’s Office for potential criminal liability as part of standard protocol.
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