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Father arrested after 9-month-old daughter dies inside parked car
By Jeremy Milarsky
Staff Writer
Posted March 15 2004

Police on Sunday arrested a horse groom from New York, accusing him of leaving his 9-month-old daughter in a vehicle parked at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach on Saturday afternoon. The baby later died at a Hollywood hospital.

Antonio Francisco Balta, 27, of Elmont, N.Y., was charged with aggravated manslaughter, police said. He remained in the Broward County Main Jail on Sunday evening, held without bail.

Balta worked as a horse groom at Gulfstream, on Federal Highway just south of Hallandale Beach Boulevard. While he did not work directly for the track, the baby's mother, Michelle Bashford, is employed there as a waitress.

Police were alerted to the situation about 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Hallandale Beach fire-rescue workers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the child and took her to Memorial Regional Hospital, where she later died.

Hallandale Beach police spokesman Andrew Casper could not say how long the child was left in the vehicle. He said Sunday that he did not know the child's name.

Saturday's temperatures rose to the upper 70s and it was sunny.

It was also a busy day at Gulfstream, which has heavily promoted a concert series to increase traffic at the park. In addition to the Florida Derby, its biggest race of the year, there was a rock concert, performed by John Kay and Steppenwolf and Bad Company's Paul Rodgers.

Park officials declined to discuss the incident when contacted Sunday, but one park executive expressed sympathy for Bashford, a 22-year-old woman from New York. She could not be reached Sunday for comment.

"I'm sure everybody here at the track is very upset," said Mary Milu, human resources director at Gulfstream. "She [is] just a nice girl."

Balta moved to Florida less than a year ago from New York State, looking for a job working with horses, according to Pamela Huffer, his mother-in-law. Balta had never officially divorced Huffer's daughter, Jenny, but the couple separated almost three years ago, Huffer said.

The estranged couple has two children, a 5-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, said Huffer, of Queensbury, N.Y.

"Oh my God," she said when told the news. "That poor baby."

Before moving to Florida, Balta worked at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

It could not be determined whether Balta had hired an attorney by late Sunday. If convicted of aggravated manslaughter, he could face up to 30 years in prison.

Staff Writer Robert Nolin and Researcher Cindy Kent contributed to this report.

Jeremy Milarsky can be reached at jmilarsky@sun-sentinel.com or 954-572-2020.

Copyright 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel