Police: Heat in car killed Hollywood baby, not
By Robert Nolin
October 5, 2004
HOLLYWOOD (FL) -- Another young child, the fourth this year in South Florida, has died after being left in a sweltering car, police said Monday.
The case began Friday, when police answered a call about an infant unconscious in his crib. They initially suspected sudden infant death syndrome, a little-understood phenomenon in which otherwise healthy babies die in their sleep.
But a subsequent autopsy on year-old Trent Peterson, who was pronounced dead after being taken to Memorial Regional Hospital on Friday afternoon, showed he died from heat exposure, police said, most likely from being left in a car.
"It's consistent with the child being out in a car in the hot sun," police Capt. Tony Rode said Monday. "It could have been 20 minutes or two hours."
Police are still investigating. The child's mother, Danielle Peterson, 19, and her boyfriend, Thomas C. Wade Jr., 20, could face charges, Rode said.
"At this point, we're going to go through the State Attorney's Office," Rode said.
That agency could file direct charges or submit the case to a grand jury, he said.
This would be the ninth child in Florida and the 34th nationwide this year to die as a result of being left in a hot car, said Janette Fennell, president and founder of Kids and Cars, a Leawood, Kansas-based group that advocates better child safety involving vehicles.
In 2003, 42 children across the country, most 3 or younger, died after being neglected in closed cars.
The previous three South Florida cases resulted in criminal charges that are still pending.
In March, police said Antonio Balta of Elmont, N.Y., was responsible for the death of his 9-month-old daughter, Veronika, after leaving her strapped in her car seat while he was at the horse races at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale.
A month later, police said Melissa Wildman of Lake Worth caused the death of her 4-month-old daughter, Savanna, by leaving her in a car after a night of drinking and drugs.
In July, police said dentist Dennis Francisco Sierra went to work and left his 3-year-old son Andres in an SUV outside his West Boca Raton office for three hours. He remembered the toddler only after a relative called. The boy later died.
Balta, Wildman and Sierra all face charges of manslaughter of a child.
Temperatures inside a closed car, especially in sun-drenched Florida, can climb 19 degrees in 10 minutes and 45 to 50 degrees in one to two hours, a San Francisco State University study found. Children, whose body temperatures jump more quickly than adults', are particularly vulnerable.
Fennell said her organization doesn't necessarily push for criminal charges in these cases. "It really is up to law enforcement, because every case is different," she said. "Our approach overall is all about prevention."
In only a small percentage of cases are drugs or alcohol involved when a child is left in a car. More likely, Fennell said, it's simply a result of a parent's fast-paced existence.
"In most cases, you're talking about ... educated, caring, loving parents who made the worst mistake of their lives," she said.
Robert Nolin can be reached at email@example.com or 954-385-7912.
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