Grandmother charged when 2 kids, dog locked in heat in 1 of 3 heat-related incidents

Geneva Johnson

An 81-year-old grandmother was jailed after two children and a dog were left in a locked car at Walmart in West Ashley for nearly an hour in Wednesday's sweltering heat, police said.

Charleston police were called to the Bees Ferry Road store at 6:27 p.m., police spokesman Charles Francis said. An employee had seen two children in a car parked near the front entrance. The children were crying, Francis said.

A 6-year-old girl, a 9-year-old boy and a dog were in the car, Francis said. The keys were inside and the windows were rolled up.

"When the police got there, the kids were already out of the car," Francis said. The employee had encouraged the children to open the car, he said. Once the car was open, the children were taken inside the store until police arrived.

The two children were taken to Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital to be evaluated, Francis said. They were later released to a family member. The dog was released to a family friend, Francis said.

The children's grandmother told detectives she was only in the store for a few minutes, but witnesses said it was almost an hour, Francis said.

Geneva Johnson of Cabrill Drive is charged with two counts of unlawful conduct toward a child and one count of animal neglect. She was being held in the Cannon Detention Center pending a bond hearing Thursday afternoon.

Also Wednesday, a Spartanburg couple was charged with animal cruelty after a dog was left in a car at Sam's Club in North Charleston for 55 minutes. And another dog had to be euthanized after suffering heat stroke and failing to respond to treatment.

All three cases occurred on a dangerously hot day, on which an unofficial record for the heat index was set.

At 4 p.m., the Mount Pleasant Regional Airport recorded a heat index of 124, according to the S.C. Climate Office, which has monitored the daily readings for 20 years.

The dog left in a car outside Sam's Club had a body temperature of 104 when it was brought to the shelter, said Kay Hyman, spokeswoman for the Charleston Animal Society. The temperature inside the car had risen to 112 degrees and the outside heat index was 115, Hyman said. A shelter veterinarian lowered the animal's body temperature and administered IV fluids. The dog responded to treatment and its owners were charged with animal neglect, Hyman said. They were instructed to provide follow-up veterinary care, she said.

The dog that had to be euthanized was one of three dogs being walked by a homeless man at a North Charleston Walmart, Hyman said. The dog could barely stand up when it arrived at the shelter. It did not respond to treatment. The two other dogs taken from the homeless man survived and were still at the shelter, Hyman said.

The kind of heat we experienced here Wednesday is especially stressful on the elderly and on children, according to experts.

Today will be the first official break from the suffocating weather we've had of late, according to National Weather Service, Charleston forecasters.

Temperatures are still forecast to hit the 90s and the heat index should be in the triple digits. The difference will be that heat exhaustion and heat stroke are possible instead of likely, according to weather service and academic sources.

The real break comes Friday, when clouds, showers and thundershowers ought to keep temperatures in the high 80s and the heat index livable.

The weather station where the unofficial record was recorded is at the Mount Pleasant Regional Airport. Chris Harward of Atlantic Aviation was out there at 4 p.m. He was cutting the grass with a push mower that wasn't self-propelled.

"Unacceptable. It was heat to be dealt with," Harward said. He had to take breaks every 20 minutes or so to get inside and drink some water. He knew it was break time when he could no longer catch his breath. Harward has lived in Charleston and worked outdoors most of his life. "I've never seen it this hot before," he said.

Reach David W. MacDougall at 937-5655, on Twitter at @davemacdougall or on Facebook. Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or follow him on Twitter at @bopete.

Mount Pleasant set a state record Wednesday with a heat index of 124 degrees. The previous state high was 123 degrees, set Aug. 1, 1999, in Myrtle Beach.

Other Wednesday high heat indexes.

Johns Island, 121 (2 p.m.)

Hilton Head, 118 (2 p.m.)

NOTE: Heat index records are not official. The state record is based on S.C. Climate Office daily observations for the past 20 years.