Baby left in truck all day dies

By Jill Taylor, Daphne Duret
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

Friday, August 11, 2006

STUART Lively Merengue music spilled out the open door of the big black Ford truck Thursday afternoon, a loaded shopping cart sat nearby and a bag of groceries rested on the truck floor just below an empty baby seat.

A few feet away, inside the Dollar General Store at Cedar Pointe Plaza, 26-year-old Nellier Lima grieved over the body of her dead son Harold, a 21-month-old she unwittingly left in the back seat in the broiling summer heat all day as she went about her job cleaning houses.

Stuart Fire-Rescue Chief Lori Sunderman (left) consoles the Dollar General employee who called 911 after a customer found her dead child in a truck.

She discovered the baby when she went to load her purchases into the rear compartment of the four-door Ford F-150 pickup around 4:15 p.m.

"A lady came in (Dollar General) yelling that her baby wasn't breathing," said one witness whose name was not available. "The cashier was trying to revive the baby, but he was gone."

Stuart police said Lima was apparently rattled by changes in her morning routine. The baby was sound asleep around 8 a.m. when she would normally drop him off at day care. She decided to drop off her 6-year-old daughter at Port Salerno Elementary first.

With the hubbub of the second day of school, she apparently forgot she had missed the first step of her morning routine and went to her first cleaning job, police said.

"She forgot to double back and take her sleeping son to day care," Stuart Sgt. Marty Jacobson said. "She forgot all about him in the car seat."

The temperature in Stuart on Thursday reached 91, but it felt like 106, according to to David Smith, coordinator of SKYWARN weather spotters. It was certainly much hotter than that inside the closed black truck, with some reports indicating the temperature in a closed vehicle in 85-degree weather can reach 120 degrees in less than 30 minutes.

In at least two Palm Beach County cases in the last year, children have died after about an hour in a closed car.

In the summer of 2003, 42 children died in hot vehicles in the United States, according to reports from the Food and Drug Administration. This is the first Martin County case in recent memory.

An autopsy will determine how and when the boy died. Prosecutors were called to the scene, but there were no charges Thursday.

Bystanders at Cedar Pointe were stunned to learn the reason for the yellow crime scene tape strung around the parking lot, the truck and grocery cart.

"Oh my God! That's shocking," said Victor Casillas, a plaza maintenance worker. "I saw the truck open. I saw the girl (cashier) coming out crying on her phone."

On Ellendale Street in the Golden Gate neighborhood where the family lives just south of the Stuart, run-down cars and broken bicycles line the streets where duplex and triplexes are rented to low-income working people.

Thursday afternoon, while about two dozen men played soccer on a field behind the family's apartment, neighbors had just begun to wonder where the family was when they heard about Harold's death.

By this time, neighbors said, he would have been outside playing with his father and his older sister. Harold loved any game where he could throw, kick or catch a ball, they said, but he especially loved soccer.

"He used to go out there and try to play with the big guys," neighbor Andrea Wilkins said.

Wilkins said the Limas were already living in the apartment across the hall from her when she moved to the neighborhood a year ago. She said she watched the mother carry Harold in her arms back then, but soon the dark-haired boy with the hazel-green eyes was walking.

He used to stand near the living room window, pull back the stiff peach and white curtain, and wave at people passing by, Wilkins said.

Wilkins said she'd always blow him a kiss. He'd always blow one back.

"He's such a sweet little boy... Lord, have mercy," Wilkins said, shaking her head.