Investigators recreate heat inside the car that killed Georgia toddler

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ATLANTA — Open a car door on a summer day, and a sauna blast will quickly remind you just how seethingly, sticky hot it can get inside in little time. It’s suffocating.

For 22-month-old Cooper Harris, strapped all day into a child’s seat in his father’s SUV, as the sun baked it, it was fatal.

Investigators in Georgia wanted to know how high the temperature climbed in that back seat, so this week they recreated that sauna heat in Justin Ross Harris’ silver Hyundai Tucson.

They drove it to the spot where it sat in the heat for seven hours on June 18, the day Cooper died.

They parked in the same space that Harris did, CNN affiliate WAGA reported, and measured the temperature at times of day that are key to the father’s felony murder case:

— At 9:30 a.m., when police say Harris pulled into the parking lot at Home Depot’s corporate offices, where he worked. He normally would have taken Cooper to daycare then but left him in the car.

— At 12:42 p.m., when the 33-year-old father placed light bulbs inside the car.

— And at 4:16 p.m., when investigators say Harris drove off.

Up to 140 degrees

They have not released the data yet, but CNN weather experts believe temperatures could have climbed to nearly 140 degrees.

A government traffic agency has corroborated the possibility.

“Cars parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures up to 131 degrees F — 172 degrees F when outside temperatures are 80 degrees F — 100 degrees F,” the National Highway Traffic and Safety Authority said.

“Even outside temperatures in the 60s can cause a car temperature to rise well above 110° F.”

On the day Cooper died, the high temperature reached 92 degrees. Investigators used outside thermometers on Tuesday to monitor outdoor temperature rises.

Dozens of children die in hot cars every year, the NHTSA said.

People are in danger of dying of heatstroke when their body temperatures climb above 104 degrees and stay there for prolonged periods, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Heat attacks the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles, the Mayo Clinic said.

Victims can experience nausea and faintness, before organ damage sets in, eventually leading to death.

The elderly and small children are particularly susceptible to heatstroke.

Uncomfortable details

Initially, police described the death of the toddler as the result of tragic absent-mindedness.

They said the dad had apparently forgotten the boy was in the back seat of his Hyundai Tucson; he didn’t remember until he was done with his workday, drove a couple of miles and pulled into a shopping center parking lot.

But suspicions grew as police investigated.

The Cobb County medical examiner’s office found the child’s cause of death “consistent with hyperthermia and the investigative information suggests the manner of death is homicide.”

Investigators have also unearthed uncomfortable details in Harris’ online activities. He has performed Internet searches on child death in hot cars, they said.

While Cooper was left in the car, Harris was allegedly chatting via an online contact service with women. Police say that Harris, who is married, has, in the past, sent sexually explicit messages and photos on the service, including to an underage girl.


  • Amanda

    IN cases like this i dont see why even have a trial just leave him in a car strabbed in a seat where he cant get out.

    • Matthew

      Amen Amanda he needs to know how it feels before he dies just the way that innocent little boy felt before He Died this just discussed me

    • Chucky

      Every defendant has the right to a fair trial. Even this man. I don’t condone what he did and think it is disgusting. I think the mother played a role and should be held accountable also but they do have the right to a trial.

  • seriously?

    trials are a good thing when there really is reasonable doubt but if anyone seriously doubts this guy killed his kid, then they are ucking fidiots.

    • sadindeed

      Seriously, “Seriously?”? You are truly an idiot, and a scary one. “Trials are a good thing when there really is reasonable doubt”. Really? So we don’t need juries anymore to determine if there actually is reasonable doubt; we can simply let you read the news stories about alleged crimes and you can let us all know if a jury and judge are needed or not. Is there a tree in your yard we can use to lynch whoever you determine in your sad little mind is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? You are the kind of person that needs to be locked up before you actually do kill someone. Really frightening to think there are people like you walking around free.

  • its my business

    I was just wondering if Justin Ross Harris opened his car door at 4:16PM, felt the enormous blast of heat we all do when a car has been parked that long in the dead of heat and turned on the engine so the air conditioner would start and he could drive comfortably. (Just like all the rest of do when it is Africa hot like it has been). I realize he stopped 10 minutes away from his work. Maybe that gave him some time to “cool off” of that hot car.

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