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Another baby left to swelter in hot car

Published Sep. 29, 2005

The 11-month-old girl is in guarded condition. Her mother was charged with felony child neglect.

Alison Brent warns parents never to leave a child alone in a car because it can be fatal.

Brent, director of pediatric medicine at All Children's Hospital, would know. She has helped treat two infants left this week in their parents' cars.

The latest incident involved 11-month-old Mariah Stevenson, who was in her car seat for about an hour Thursday while her mother and the infant's 21-month-old brother, Joshua, went into the Pinellas County Judicial Building, 545 First Ave. N.

Marilyn Stewart, 22, of 7101 32nd Ave. N, was charged with felony child neglect. Stewart, a certified nursing assistant, is being held in jail in lieu of $50,000 bail. Mariah remains in guarded condition at All Children's Hospital. Police said the infant's temperature reached 103 degrees.

"I would never leave a kid in the car," Brent said. "If they don't die of heat stroke you could have someone steal the child. I think we are seeing (children left in cars) more frequently. Common sense is not so common. People are so busy with their own lives that they forget that the baby is priority."

Stewart went to the judicial building to take care of a legal matter about 10:30 a.m. and left Mariah in a car seat in her gray Ford Thunderbird parked partly in the shade in lot 88. The tinted windows were up.

About a half hour later, city meter technician Vicki Reynolds and a security guard were collecting the meter money, as they do once every two weeks, when they noticed the infant in the back seat.

Reynolds said she tried both doors, but could not get in to rescue the baby. She said the child was awake and sweating, and looked extremely tired. The baby was wearing a sleeveless pink-checked top and a diaper.

"I said, "Oh my God, the baby is in the car,' " she said. "I looked in and the baby was awake and crunching its little face up and trying to cry. She was sweating profusely and was so tired she could not stay awake. I kept going to the doors over and over again and trying to will it open."

As Reynolds, the security guard and another witness called police and tried to open the car doors, Stewart came out of the building. Reynolds said the mother was angry that people were involved and did not realize she was in the building that long.

"The mom came and asked, "What's going on?' " Reynolds said. "I told her she left her baby in the car and she said, "What's it to you?' "

Elaine Fulton-Jones, spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families, said the children will go into a temporary foster home while they find a suitable family member to take care of the children. Fulton-Jones said they are familiar with the family and investigated them in June for inappropriate behavior by a family member.

Police said they asked Stewart whether she was aware of the dangers associated with leaving a child in a warm car. She told officials that she had seen the news reports.

This is the third incident this week involving a child left outside in the heat. On Sunday, a 4-month-old girl was left in her carrier along a road outside Shady Hills Apartments, and the father was charged with child neglect. A 5-month-old boy was left in his father's car Monday while he went in for a drink at a local bar, and the father was charged with child abuse.

Brent said these incidents are so severe to the baby because the child cannot battle heat as well as an adult. When a child is left in the car, she said, the heat from the vehicle is transferred to the baby.

"The infant can only sweat so much," she said. "Very quickly the baby can become overheated or go into shock. Very quickly their temperatures can climb to over 105 degrees. The car gets hotter than the baby's body can absorb."