Another hot car death: Police investigate why toddler left in Florida vehicle

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pkg toddler killed in hot car florida_00000726

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Story highlights

  • Police investigating death of 16-month-old who died after being left in a car
  • Temperatures on Tuesday afternoon were in the low 90s
  • Father was "great with kids," colleague says, expressing doubt incident was intentional

Lake City, Florida (CNN)A 16-month-old girl died after her father forgot to take her to day care and left her in a vehicle in the northern Florida sun, according to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, citing what family members told authorities.

Police are investigating the Tuesday death, casting the girl's parents into the spotlight: The girl's mother has been identified as Wendy Timonera Kwon, an assistant state attorney; her father is Young Kwon, a public defender.
"This is still an active investigation, and we're still in the process of conducting interviews," said Gretl Plessinger, Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
    The Sheriff's Office asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the death because the girl's parents work for the 3rd Judicial Circuit.
    "They just don't make them any better than Young and Wendy," said Blair Payne, a public defender for the 3rd Judicial Circuit. "He was great with his kids. There is absolutely no way that this was anything other than just a horrendous accident."
    The Columbia County Combined Communication Center received a 911 call at 3:14 p.m. Tuesday saying the girl had been in a car and was no longer breathing, a Sheriff's Office news release said.
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    Paramedics and deputies responded to a house owned by the Kwons and found the deceased child. Temperatures on Tuesday afternoon in the area were in the low 90s, according to local reports.
    Under Florida law, it is illegal to leave a child younger than 6 years old unattended or unsupervised for more than 15 minutes. It is unclear whether Kwon will face any charges.
    Rod Smith, an attorney representing the Kwons, released a statement to CNN affiliate WJAX, saying, "The family is dealing with a tragic circumstance, and they are leaning on one another. They would hope the public understands their need for privacy."
    On Wednesday in Quincy, Massachusetts, another father frantically called 911 after realizing he had left his child inside his car at a train station.
    "I left my 1-year-old baby in my SUV by accident this morning at the North Quincy station," the man told 911. "I'm on my way back to the station now."
    The Fire Department responded, and the baby was rescued.
    "We were able to get the baby out of the car and the baby was fine, in good shape," said Capt. John Dougan of the Quincy Police Department.
    Authorities believe the child had been in the car for about 35 minutes. Temperatures were relatively cool at the time.
    The father of the child released a statement to CNN affiliate WBZ, explaining that his typical day morning involves two daycare dropoffs and a train ride.
    "The baby had fallen asleep in the child seat, and I went into autopilot," the statement reads. "While this one of the worst days of my life, I know that we were also very fortunate as it was a mild temperature day and I had come to my senses before too long."
    No charges have been filed against the father in the Massachusetts case.
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    Both cases highlight an alarming situation that becomes increasingly more dangerous in summer.
    Last year, a Georgia man was arrested and charged with murder and second-degree child cruelty after leaving his 22-month-old son in the car for an entire work day. Justin Ross Harris is in jail without bond. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
    "Sadly heat stroke claimed the lives of 30 children last year and 44 children the year before," said Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. "So far this year, there have been two reported deaths from heatstroke in cars."
    Carr suggests parents avoid leaving their children unattended in a car, even if they are running a short errand.
    "A car can heat up about 19 degrees in as little as 10 minutes, and we've seen heat stroke deaths recorded when the temperature is in the 60s," she said.
    She recommended that all parents create a reminder when traveling with their little ones.
    "Put something in the back seat where a child seat is always located that you're going to need at your final destination, something you know you're going to look for, like your cell phone, your purse, a briefcase," Carr said. "This, in fact, can happen to anyone, and we've seen it happen to anyone."