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Nonprofit says cars stolen with kids inside 'not a rare occurrence' following Des Moines incident

Kids and Car Safety says it has documented 116 incidents this year, one even resulting in the death of a 13-year-old from Kansas.

DES MOINES, Iowa — A nonprofit is reminding Iowans to not leave their children in the backseat of a car after an individual stole a car in Des Moines with a four-year-old in the backseat Thursday night. 

An individual stole a car from a convenience store near 42nd Street and University Avenue just before 6 p.m., according to the Des Moines Police Department. Police said a four-year-old had been in the backseat at the time. 

Later during their investigation, police found the child on 47th Street on the side of the road. They were safely brought back to their parents shortly after. 

This year alone, Kids and Car Safety has documented 116 children who were left alone in the backseat of a vehicle that was stolen. In one of those instances, a 13-year-old from Kansas was dragged to death trying to escape the backseat of her family SUV. 

In 2019, the organization documented over 200 children. 

"You know, people tend to think of cases like this as freak accidents, but it's happening a lot more than anybody realizes," said Amber Rollins, director of the nonprofit. 

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Rollins said parents don't always realize the overall dangers of leaving their children in the car alone

"Thousands of children have been strangled to death or seriously injured by power windows, playing with the power windows," she said. "Children, hundreds every year, knock cars into gear and then they fall out and they're injured, or they jump out because they're scared. And you know, just the number of things that can go wrong is infinite. And this car theft thing is just, it's something that's happening multiple times every week."

Des Moines Fire Department Lieutenant Rick Thomas said a change in a parent's daily plans is a big cause of people leaving their kids behind. 

"So talk to the child, if you put them in the middle of the backseat in the car seat, talk to him sing to him, even if they're an infant," he said. "Keep your mind on them. Take them directly to the day care before you stop to get coffee or anything else. "

RELATED: Police: Man involved in altercation with officer has died after he and officer were both hit by a car

Kids and Car Safety provided the following tips for parents when it comes to traveling with their children: 

  • Never leave a child alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute.
  • Utilize drive-thru or carry out services that don't require you to leave your vehicle for pickup 
  • If a business doesn't offer curbside delivery, call upon arrival and ask them to bring your order to your car. Most people are more than happy to accommodate you when you tell them you have small children.
  • Keep car doors locked any time you're sitting inside a parked car.

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