SSU K-9 dies in handler's hot car

SSU K-9 dies in handler's hot car
Published: Jul. 21, 2015 at 8:17 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 20, 2015 at 10:00 PM EDT
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RINCON, GA (WTOC) - A Savannah State K-9 officer is dead after being left in his handler's hot car.

Baston joined the SSU Police Dept. back in 2010 and has helped a number of surrounding agencies during his time of service. Sadly, this is not the first time something like this has happened.

Just last week, a K-9 officer in Conyers, GA died in the back of his handler's car.

Baston passed away July 10 at his handler's home in Rincon after being left in the car for several hours. According to the police report, Baston's handler came home after work and brought some food inside to his wife and two young children.

The report says the handler was going to return to get Baston, but he ate first and then fell asleep. When he woke up and realized Baston was not in the house, he rushed outside and found Baston dead in the back of the car with the windows rolled up and the engine off.

"These are heartbreaking, sickening, accidents," said Jeff Schettler, CEO of Georgia K-9 National Training Center. "Accidents can happen anytime to anybody. I do not think there is any malicious intent that this officer or any officer in the past has had when their dog dies."

Baston was rushed inside and placed in a cool bath, but it was too late; he was dead. According to the report, the K-9 was in the back of the hot car between three and four hours. The temperatures that day were listed above 95 degrees.

"What we have to do is mandate that there is training for every handler on health and welfare," said Schettler.

Schettler was a handler and has been training K-9's for about 20 years. According to him, there are no laws in Georgia that prevent officers from keeping their dogs in the car.

In fact, he said a law like that would hinder dogs from being effective. They need to be able to be on scene in minutes.

"If there are going to be laws, it should be more about safety equipment for heat injuries for the dogs, not necessarily that dogs cannot be kept in their cars," said Schettler.

There is equipment on the market that can help in these situations. For example, hot car alarms, heat door locks, and others.

"If the heat in the car rose too high, we could get a signal from a pager and an alarm center would go off."

However, Schettler said that many times there is not money in departments for this type of equipment, and that needs to change.

Savannah State University released the following statement:

"The Savannah State University (SSU) family is saddened by the loss of K9 officer Baston, a German Shepherd, at the age of seven. He contributed significantly to the safety of all on the SSU campus for the past five years. Baston's skills were also employed to assist surrounding law enforcement agencies and departments."

Rincon Police investigated the death, but it has since been turned over to the Effingham County Solicitor General. Baston's handler is no longer employed at the University. No word on charges at this point.

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