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Las Vegas 4-year-old dies after relative leaves him inside sweltering car

Las Vegas 4-year-old dies after relative leaves him inside sweltering car
Las Vegas police guard a crime scene in this file photo. The department is investigating the death of a 4-year-old boy who was left in a hot car Thursday. (Associated Press)

A 4-year-old boy died in Las Vegas after a relative left him locked in a car as temperatures neared 100 degrees Thursday night, officials said.

The Clark County Coroner's Office identified the victim as Seth Franz, though an official cause of death had not been ruled.

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Las Vegas police responded to a home on Welter Avenue around 6:30 p.m. Thursday and found Seth had been left inside a car for between two and three hours. He was pronounced dead at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas half an hour later, according to the coroner's office.

An "adult family member" had parked the car in the driveway with the windows up, and left Seth inside, according to a statement from the Las Vegas Police Department.

Officer Laura Meltzer, a police spokeswoman, declined to identify the relative. Although  detectives were only working with preliminary information, Meltzer said it did not appear that the child was intentionally left inside the car.

Criminal charges had not been filed as of Friday afternoon. Temperatures in Las Vegas were around 99 degrees at the time the boy was locked in the car. But conditions inside the car would have been hotter, according to Josh Salmen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

The issue of children dying of heat stroke after being left unattended in cars gained national prominence last summer after a 33-year-old Georgia man was charged with felony murder for leaving his young son inside a sweltering car.

Prosecutors in that case said Justin Ross Harris intentionally left his boy to die.

Despite the tragic circumstances of the boy's death, advocates say the high-profile nature of Harris' case, coupled with a spate of hot car deaths involving children around the country last summer, helped make parents more cognizant of an avoidable, and all too common, danger to their children.

"It brought a whole new level of awareness, which had never been there before," said Sue Auriemma, vice president of the child advocacy group KidsAndCars.

Sixteen children have died of heat stroke after being left inside cars this year, according to Auriemma, who said that number is actually slightly down from last summer. Thirty-two children died of heat stroke after being left in cars in 2014, according to the advocacy group's website, meaning the annual total is on pace to decrease.

The deaths, Auriemma said, tend to happen in spurts. So while autumn may bring cool temperatures in most parts of the country, Auriemma said parents need to remain vigilant in states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

Fifteen children have died of heat stroke after being left inside cars in Nevada since 1996, according to data collected by KidsAndCars. Thirteen of those deaths have occurred in Clark County.

Since Las Vegas experiences blazing temperatures nearly year-round, Meltzer said police are aware that children are particularly at risk in the desert city.

"We do have a problem with this here, of course, because our temperatures get very high during the summer months, and even during the spring and the fall, we can have this periodically because our temperatures are higher than other places," she said.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news

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