SOUTHERN INDIANA — Four years ago, Jeffersonville resident Lori Forest was inspired to begin work on a safety device she hopes will save the lives of countless children.

It began when she read a news article about a mother whose 9-month-old child had died after being left in a hot car while she went to work. Although the mother normally dropped the child off at daycare first, there was a change in their routine — a doctor’s visit — and when the mother went to get the baby after work the daycare staff informed her she had never been there that morning.

“That night I went to church and I got on my knees and prayed for her,” Forest said. “Because I knew she had lost her baby; her baby wasn’t coming back. But she would carry that guilt for the rest of her life.”

Through prayer, Forest was inspired to begin work on what she calls the “Saf-T Child,” a device to alert parents or guardians if they accidentally leave a child unattended in a stopped car.

“The Lord really put that on my heart and that’s when everything came into mind,” she said.

According to the National Safety Council, there have been 850 children die since 1998 because they were left in hot vehicles, more than half toddlers or infants. But Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop said it’s not something parents do out of negligence or as a criminal act. Other things come into play — distraction, change in routine.

“Nobody does this on purpose,” Loop said, adding that the sheriff’s department gets “dozens” of calls each year on a child locked in a hot car. Throughout his career, he’s aware of several children in the area who have died as a result. For each call like this, Loop said police, fire and EMS are sent, and all have the capability to force the car doors open to get the child.

Forest’s creation is in the prototype phase and there still are bugs to be worked out, but essentially how it works is that a sensor is placed under the child, either built into the car seat or as a standalone device. Information including a parent or guardian’s phone number and the vehicle’s make, model, year and license plate number are registered with the device’s software.

If a child is left in the stopped car for 60 seconds, the parent or guardian gets an alert on the phone letting them know. Another 30 seconds later, a second registered person such as a spouse or other family member gets an alert so they can call and check on the child. Emergency services are contacted within two-and-a-half minutes if no actions are taken to retrieve the child.

After she had the idea, Forest needed to find a way to bring it to reality. She approached her longtime friend Andrew Takami, who at that time was director of Purdue Polytechnic Institute in New Albany. He connected her with a professor who had a class work on the project for two semesters.

More recently, University of Louisville students have been working on the prototype as a Capstone project. Takami is now operating Andrew Takami Philanthropy, and working with Forest to market the technology, which she owns the patent for.

The inventor’s hope is that it can be taken up by a car seat manufacturer, but she said she also wants to see standalone devices families can buy for less, if they’re not in a the market for a smart car seat.

“The passion Lori has for saving a child’s life through this technology is note-worthy,” Takami said in a news release, adding Friday in an interview “It reminds us that one person can make a difference in this world.”