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Valrico father charged in the overheating deaths of his children

TAMPA — Being exposed to extreme heat for a long time killed the two babies whose father brought them to Brandon Regional Hospital two weeks ago.

When he arrived at the hospital emergency room, they were suffering from "environmental hyperthemia,'' and it killed them, according to Hillsborough's medical examiner, Vernard Adams.

That conclusion and witness statements were the basis for charging Michael Jon Ervin Jr., father of 17-month-old Dionna Ervin and 5-month-old Kaden Warren, with two counts of aggravated manslaughter of a child, Hillsborough sheriff's officials said Friday.

The children had been in Ervin's "exclusive care, custody and control'' that afternoon, deputies said in a news release.

Detectives arrested Ervin, 26, at his Valrico home at 3807 Ridge­view Place on Friday.

An arrest affidavit filed by detectives says the children's core body temperatures reached 105 and 109 degrees that day.

A witness told detectives that Ervin came to his home that morning at 11 a.m., bringing his children with him, and that the two men smoked marijuana.

The affidavit also says hospital personnel told detectives that Ervin appeared lethargic and fell asleep several times as they were giving his children CPR.

Ervin told deputies the children had been his sole responsibility that day after he took their mother, Enidlin Warren, to work in the morning.

• • •

On Aug. 13, Ervin arrived at Brandon Regional Hospital at 2:50 p.m., pulling into the entrance to the hospital's women's center and asking for help.

Doctors later said the children had core temperatures so high that it stunned the medical staff who rushed to their aid.

They couldn't save them.

The high in Brandon on that Thursday was 93 degrees, according to Weather.com.

• • •

Jan Null, a hyperthermia expert and meteorology professor at San Francisco State University, said when the body's temperature reaches 104 degrees, heatstroke sets in. And at 107 degrees, the cells in the organs begin to die.

Children are far more susceptible to heat than adults. Their bodies heat up three to five times faster because they have less fully developed thermoregulatory systems, he said. And the younger they are, the faster they heat up.

There is no widely recognized standard for how long a child can endure heat before being in danger of hyperthermia, he said. Child safety advocates say youngsters shouldn't be left alone at all.

Florida law says no child under six can be left unattended in a vehicle for more than 15 minutes. However a child cannot be left in a vehicle for any period of time if the motor is running or the child's health is in danger.

Null has a fact sheet on his Web site that charts how the average temperature rises in a closed car on an 80 degree day. In ten minutes, it is 99 degrees in the car. In half an hour, it is 114. In one hour, it is 123.

• • •

Ervin told detectives both children had been in a crib or bassinet before he found them unresponsive.

The Florida Department of Children and Families has said the family was the subject of abuse investigations.

State records show that both parents have prior arrests, but neither has been convicted.

Deputies confiscated the family car and searched the home.

An affidavit for a search warrant notes that they found marijuana on a television, more marijuana in a bedroom, and various pills in the living room, bedroom and closet. The report does not identify the pills.

Detectives also confiscated sheets and blankets, a baby bathrobe, formula and a diaper.

Neighbor Tom Powers said Ervin moved to the quiet cul-de-sac nearly 15 years ago with his mother, Valerie, and had become a nuisance in recent years.

"Cars would come to the house at all hours of the night, knock on the side door and then leave," he said. "To me, this is no surprise."

He said neighbors called this to the attention of sheriff's deputies, thinking the activity might involve drug dealing.

"It's a sad situation for the children. They might still be alive if he had been arrested then," he said.

Valrico father charged in the overheating deaths of his children 08/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 29, 2009 12:03am]
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