Baby's dad charged with manslaughter

Accounts provided by police leave many details unclear in the circumstances surrounding the death of 1-month-old Francis Lentz.

By STEVE THOMPSON
St. Petersburg Times
Published September 22, 2004


NEW PORT RICHEY - Robert Lentz picked up his 1-month-old son at his brother's house about 3 p.m. Thursday, and drove home, a mile away.

On the way, the baby slept in the back of Lentz's 1996 Cadillac. So, Lentz told New Port Richey police, he decided to leave the boy undisturbed. He left his car parked in the sun, with the windows rolled up and his child inside.

Then, Lentz went inside his home and fell asleep.
It was about 9 p.m. before Lentz realized he didn't know where his son was. He jumped into his Cadillac and drove back to his brother's house.

It was there, at his brother's house, where Lentz finally saw his dead son still strapped in the baby seat, wrapped in a blanket.

That was the account Lentz gave police during their investigation into the death of Francis Lentz.

Police arrested Robert Lentz, 42, Tuesday morning on a charge of manslaughter. He was booked into the county jail and held without bail.

Many details in the case were left unexplained Tuesday by police. They said they had talked with Lentz, but had so far been unable to speak with the child's mother, Lentz's wife, Patricia. Police did not say why they had been unable to interview her.

She was at the couple's home on High Street with Lentz when he realized the baby was missing, police said. It was unclear where she had been while the baby was in the car alone.

When Lentz discovered the baby in the car, he first took him home, then father and mother together drove their son to Community Hospital.

Doctors told police they found no obvious signs of trauma to the child, but his core temperature measured 104.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The baby's death probably was due to a heat stroke, a doctor said.

As to how Lentz could forget the baby was in the car, even while driving it later to his brother's house, police again could not explain.

"At this point, from what he's telling us, there really is no viable explanation," said Lt. Jeffrey Harrington.

Lentz was arrested Friday on an unrelated charge of violating his probation for marijuana and paraphernalia possession.

Detectives questioned him about his son's death before he was released the following day on bail.

Lentz answered detectives' questions without requesting an attorney. As to Lentz's state of mind, Harrington said it was tough to characterize.

"I would say there was a certain sense of detachment," Harrington said.

Harrington said records show Lentz has had "several brushes with the law," including charges in New York that he did not specify. Florida records show he pleaded guilty to larceny in 2002 in Pasco County. Lentz told New Port Richey police that he works as a mechanic.

Records show Patricia Widmann-Lentz registered in Pasco County as a felon because of a Georgia heroin conviction.

Lentz's brother and other family members declined to comment Tuesday.