3-Year-Old Found Dead in Back Seat of Hot Car
Reported by: Manuel De La Rosa
Last Update: 5:30 pm

BROWNSVILLE - Authorities say a small child was found dead in the back of a hot car Tuesday. It's the first heat-related death in Brownsville this year.

Investigators say the 3-year-old victim got in the car without anybody knowing it. Family and friends surrounded the home in Cameron Park. Investigators say Francisco Estrada was discovered in the vehicle shortly before 3 p.m.

They say he wandered outside the home and sat in the car. His family went looking for him and found him dead. His mother could be seen crying and wailing. Other family members were emotional about the death of the young child.

The justice of the peace came about an hour later to pronounce him dead. An autopsy has been ordered.

No criminal charges have been filed, but the sheriff says the mother will face an involuntary manslaughter charge.

Mother charged with manslaughter
July 05, 2011 9:46 PM
By LAURA B. MARTINEZ/The Brownsville Herald

A Cameron Park mother is expected to be arraigned today on manslaughter charges after her child was found dead inside a hot van at the family’s home.

Elena Isabel Rodriguez was arrested Tuesday evening in connection with her son’s death. She is being held at the Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Center in Olmito.

Authorities said 3-year-old Francisco Estrada wandered out of his home at the 2500 block of Jeffrey Street in Cameron Park, got inside a Dodge van and was unable to get out.

His body was discovered about two hours later after his family noticed he was missing and began looking for him, Sheriff Omar Lucio said.

Justice of the Peace Kip Van Johnson Hodge, who ordered an autopsy, pronounced Francisco dead at the scene.

Sheriff’s deputies received a call at 3:01 p.m. of an unresponsive child at the location, Lucio said. Although medical personnel were sent, they were unable to help the child.

Lucio said Francisco and five or six siblings were watching television at their home when the little boy wandered away.

His 16-year-old sister found him in the van, Lucio said.

“He went into the van that was parked there that was not operable and apparently he got inside and according to the investigator he probably did not know how to get out,” Lucio said. “People who have disabled vehicles like that should roll down the windows or have them carted off.”

The wailing of Francisco’s mother could be heard throughout the neighborhood as she cried for her dead child.

“Paco, Paco,” she cried as his body was placed on a gurney and taken away by Guerra Funeral Home.

Officials with the National Weather Service in Brownsville, said the temperature Tuesday afternoon was about 90 or 91 degrees. They estimate that over a two-hour period, the temperature in the van could have risen to 120 to 130 degrees.

Neighbor Salvador Murrillo Tapia described Rodriguez as a caring person who looked after her children.

“She always watched the children well,” he said.

“Güera, güera,” Murrillo Tapia cried out to the mother as he witnessed her agony over the death of her child. “Güera” refers to someone who has a light complexion or light hair.

“It hurts my heart to see this,” he said.

Maribel Rebollar stood seemingly in disbelief as she watched sheriff’s investigators comb through the scene outside the home.

“I think he probably fell asleep in there (the van) and I guess the mother was doing something inside,” she said.

Rebollar, a mother herself, said she constantly watches out for her child

“It’s sad just watching her, right now it makes me want to cry,” Rebollar said. “No mother wants to hear that her son is dead.”

This was the second death involving a child locked inside a hot car in the Rio Grande Valley in recent weeks. Last month, an 18-month-old girl from Palmview died. Her mother has been charged with manslaughter.

In that case, authorities said it took 35-year-old Ana Gonzalez two hours before she noticed her daughter was missing and realized she had been left outside in their vehicle. The little girl died from hypothermia, or heat stroke.