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Firefighter placed on paid leave after arrest in death of child left in truck

TAMPA — A Hillsborough County firefighter charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child after leaving his son in a hot pickup truck Friday has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Troy Whitaker, 41, was placed on leave Monday because of his arrest, county spokeswoman Michelle Van Dyke said.

"The handling of each is determined on a case-by-case basis," Van Dyke said in an email. "As events in this particular matter progress, Hillsborough County will determine whether to maintain Troy Whitaker's paid administrative leave, or convert to a different type of leave."

READ MORE: Toddler's death in hot car sets up potentially divisive court case

Whitaker, who was hired in March 2012, last worked a 24-hour shift on Sept. 5, Van Dyke said, four days before the child's death. He was supposed to work his next shift on Thursday but called in sick, Van Dyke said.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Whitaker left his home about 7:50 a.m. Friday to drop off his 5-year-old daughter, Addison, at Ozona Elementary School at 8:30 a.m. and was supposed to make a second stop at the New Horizons Country Day School to drop off his 23-month-old son, Lawson.

Instead, he drove home, leaving Lawson inside the car throughout the day while he studied for a promotional exam for the fire department, Gualtieri said. About 3:30 p.m., he drove the truck to Publix on U.S. 19. He spent about 40 minutes in the store, Gualtieri said, before returning to the truck to place the groceries on the front passenger seat.

Gualtieri said Lawson had died "well before" that point, but Whitaker told deputies he still did not see his son until he got back home about 4:30 p.m. and opened the door to grab the groceries. The boy's body temperature reached 108 degrees, Gualtieri said.

Investigators tested Whitaker for impairment, but results were negative. The sheriff said Whitaker told investigators that he thought he had dropped off his son at the day care.

Whitaker left the Pinellas County jail early Saturday after posting $50,000 bail. He declined to comment to reporters.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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