General Crime

DA Declines to Prosecute Man Whose Son Died After Being Left in Hot Car

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The father of an infant boy who died in the back seat of the man’s SUV in April “made a terrible mistake” but will not face criminal charges, Santa Clara County prosecutors said today. The boy’s father, identified only as “Mr. Hernandez,” was by witness accounts an attentive father, had no history of child abuse or neglect and the April 16 incident did not rise to the level of recklessness to justify criminal charges, District Attorney Jeff Rosen said today in a statement. Deputy District Attorney Sumerle Davis said that there had been a change in the family routine on the morning of the child’s death and Hernandez truly believed he had dropped the baby off before mistakenly leaving the sleeping child in his vehicle.

“It was a terrible, perfect storm that happened,” Davis said. The boy, 9-month-old Giovanni Hernandez, of Los Gatos, died as a result of hyperthermia, or elevated body temperature, according to the medical examiner’s office. San Jose police said that Hernandez was supposed to drop the child off at a babysitter’s residence before going to work on the morning of April 16 but left him in the vehicle the entire day in the 3700 block of Payne Avenue in San Jose. In a summary of the district attorney’s decision in the case, Assistant James Gibbons-Shapiro stated that Hernandez woke up that Wednesday morning at 6 a.m., got his two other school-age children ready for school and the baby for in-home day care.

The father went to bed at about 2 a.m. after staying with the baby while his wife was working at a new job delivering pizza. She arrived home at 3 a.m., according to Gibbons-Shapiro. Hernandez’s routine was to take the two older children to school and drop the infant off with a babysitter on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, but due to his wife’s job, he planned to drop the baby off with the sitter himself that Wednesday before going to work, prosecutors said. Shortly after 8 a.m., he got the three children in the SUV, placing his eldest daughter in the front seat and his middle son in the back seat with the infant who was secured in a car seat. He dropped off the older son to middle school and then his daughter to high school, then drove toward the babysitter’s home and his place of work while feeling tired at the time, prosecutors said.

Hernandez was a truck driver for a vending machine firm and would park his car at his employer’s home, drive the truck to make deliveries and return at the end of the workday. He drove to the employer’s residence that morning but forgot about the baby, who was asleep, prosecutors said. He remained tired that day and took a nap while at work. At 6:30 p.m., believing he had left the infant with the sitter, he asked a co-worker if they could swing by to pick up the boy at the sitter’s house. But he soon learned the child had died of hyperthermia after being inside the hot car all day.

Hernandez was “distraught and remorseful” and cooperated with police in the investigation, Gibbons-Shapiro said. Prosecutors had considered filing involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment charges against Hernandez, but to do so they would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he “committed an aggravated, flagrantly negligent or reckless act rather than one from inattention or mistaken judgment,” Gibbons-Shapiro stated.

“He didn’t commit a crime; he made a terrible mistake,” Gibbons-Shapiro said. Davis said that the district attorney’s office made its decision not to prosecute after a lot of research and discussion. More than three dozen children die inside vehicles each year in the U.S. after their caring parents inadvertently left them behind, Davis said. “Police officers, pediatricians have left their babies in cars,” Davis said. “Even good parents can forget.”

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