Officials warn of real dangers

Oct. 31, 2013 @ 05:03 AM

Even scarier than anything a dedicated neighbor displays for Halloween is the possibility of an accident.

That, at least, is the message being pushed this week by various medical, law enforcement and public safety groups, which warn that hordes of excited children being out on the street at night is always cause for caution.

“Halloween should be filled with surprise and enjoyment, and following some common-sense practices can keep events safer and more fun,” Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter said in a recent post on his blog. “... The major dangers are not from witches or spirits, but rather from falls and pedestrian/car crashes.”

The official trick-or-treat hours in Sanford are 6-9 p.m. tonight.

Carter said trick-or-treaters should walk and not run; that parents should make sure children eat before going out and bring home candy for inspection before eating it; that young children should have a piece of paper with their parents’ phone number and address in case they get lost, and that parents should either go with their kids or at least know the older trick-or-treaters leading the group.

Sanford Police Capt. Jason Hendley said the department generally fields a fairly normal amount of calls on Halloween, although the number of calls and complaints related to pranks and vandalism does tend to skyrocket. Officers will be on patrol looking for suspicious groups, he said.

“Of course, we get the usual mischief, with people egging houses and cars, TP-ing trees, things like that,” Hendley said. “But we’ve got a good relationship with the local merchants. If they see some kids buying four-dozen eggs, they’ll call us and let us know to keep an eye out.”

Hendley also said parents should make sure their children are responsible and well behaved, which will cut down on the chance of accidents. He added that he has never heard of a trick-or-treater getting hit by a car in Sanford, but that it could happen — especially if children are in dark clothing with no flashlights, and running in the street.

“We’ve been very lucky,” Hendley said. “I can’t remember a kid ever being hit — for a very long time, at least.”

A press release from Doctors Express Urgent Care Centers warns that children are twice as likely to be killed by a vehicle while walking on Halloween than on any other night of the year, so it suggests glow-in-the-dark costumes or accessories if possible. And noting that more than half of Halloween traffic fatalities involve an impaired driver, the group also urges people to have designated drivers if they’re going to drink.

Hendley, though, said that one advantage of Halloween falling on a weeknight is that there probably won’t be as many drunk drivers on the road when children are out.

“A lot of the Halloween parties occurred last weekend,” he said. “Of course, we’re always on the lookout for drunk drivers, but we’re not expecting it to be a huge problem this year.”

The N.C. Department of Transportation also released its own safety tips, emphasizing the importance of caution and awareness for everyone — drivers, parents and children.

Parents should help their kids set up a route to follow and make sure they know traffic rules, the department advised. And trick-or-treaters should stay on sidewalks or at least on the left side so they can face traffic instead of having cars come up from behind them.

Finally, according to the department, drivers should drive slowly in residential areas, keeping an eye out for children in dark clothes darting out into the street.

The urgent care group also said that other than traffic accidents, accidental stabbings, eye injuries and especially scrapes and bruises from falls are quite common on Halloween — and that the risk of fire can’t be underestimated either.

“Pumpkins with candles inside are decorative for sure, but they’re a real fire hazard,” the medical group said. “Imagine the danger when children dressed in flowing ghost and princess outfits walk up your steps, knock over that pumpkin and catch their costume on fire. Replace real flame candles with battery-operated candles.”

The National Crime Foundation, for its part, encourages people to always have children supervised by an adult, or at least a responsible teenager, no matter where they go trick-or-treating, and to use other common-sense strategies.

“Only approach homes that are well-lit, both inside and out; instruct children never to enter a home without parental permission,” the council said in a statement, also adding: “Younger children should always be accompanied all the way to the door of the home when trick-or-treating.”

The group also suggested that people avoid homes of sex offenders when planning their trick-or-treating routes. Lists and maps of registered offenders can be found at alertid.com — a private business the crime foundation is partnered with — or at sexoffender.ncdoj.gov/search.aspx.