Halfway Saves 4 Year From locked Car
September 6, 2023
Good Samaritans, firefighters save 4-year-old left in car during heat advisory
Julie E. Greene
A Washington County woman faces misdemeanor charges after a firefighter busted a window to get the woman's 4-year-old son out of a car parked at Valley Mall during a heat advisory Wednesday.
"When it's hot like that, we don't mess around trying to unlock the doors," said Fire Chief Jamie Drawbaugh with the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway.
Halfway veteran firefighter/EMT Matt Sweitzer said in a phone interview that he used a Halligan bar to break a car window because he and another firefighter couldn't see — through a car window — that the child was breathing. Sweitzer said he broke the window after the child did not respond after "three heavy bangs" of the bar on a window.
Fellow firefighter Tyler Drawbaugh, a 21-year-old volunteer who is the son of the chief, pulled the boy out of the car seat. The child started crying as Drawbaugh took him to an ambulance to be evaluated, Sweitzer said.
Sweitzer said he used a thermal camera to measure the temperature in the car after the window was broken and a car door opened. The temperature was around 140 degrees, according to Sweitzer and the fire chief.
It would have been significantly hotter prior to the window being broken and the door opened, said Sweitzer of the Hagerstown area.
How was the child discovered?
Two women had parked near the child's car around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday with one of them calling 911 to report an unattended child in a car in the mall parking lot, according to court documents.
"They saved that kid's life," Sweitzer said of the women. The Herald-Mail could not reach those women Thursday for comment.
As for Sweitzer, Chief Drawbaugh said he was "pleased with what he did. People have to understand that we don't want to break things, but when there's a life on the line, especially the child, we're going to do what we have to do to get access to him.
"You're playing potentially with a child's life. We don't know how long he was in the car," he said.
Drawbaugh said that, "in my opinion, he made the right call."
Sweitzer, who previously has worked for Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Co. and Community Rescue Service, estimated it was at least 10 minutes from the time the women spotted the child to the point he was removed from the car. He does not know how long the child was in the car before the women spotted him.
What was the weather like on Wednesday?
The National Weather Service issued heat advisories for Tuesday and Wednesday for Washington County due to high temperatures and humidity. Among the advice provided in at least one of those advisories was not to leave children or pets unattended in vehicles under any circumstances.
The outdoor heat index at the Hagerstown Regional Airport, several miles northeast of the mall, was 97 degrees at 4:53 p.m. Wednesday and 95 degrees at 5:53 p.m., according to the weather service's website.
An unattended child left in a parked car is "at greatest risk for heat stroke, and possibly death," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.
It also is illegal in Maryland to leave a child younger than 8 "unattended, locked or confined to a home, car, building or other enclosure without proper supervision," according to an email from Sgt. Carly Hose, spokesperson for the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
What charges is the mother facing?
Jehona Vitija, 37, who lives in the Chewsville area, is charged via summons with two misdemeanors: reckless endangerment and leaving the child in a locked car out of her sight and while she was absent, according to charging documents. The summons had not been served as of Thursday afternoon, according to the online docket for her case. Vitija could not be reached Thursday for comment.
The boy was cleared by Emergency Medical Services, according to charging documents filed by the sheriff's office in Washington County District Court.
The child was evaluated at the scene, but was not taken to a hospital, Drawbaugh said.
Hose said the sheriff's office referred the incident to Child Protective Services.
Mom said she didn't take child inside because he was sleeping
According to court records, at least one of the women who arrived in the parking lot to find the child unattended in the car told a deputy she could not hear the car running and there was no parent or guardian in the area. She told the deputy she could see the child with his eyes closed and moving his head.
Vitija allegedly told the deputy that she had been delivering food all day and left her son in the car while she went into the food court to pick up an order, charging documents state.
The mom allegedly said she didn't leave the car running because she didn't want anyone to steal the car with her son inside and didn't take him inside because she didn't want to wake him up.