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A Groton father accused of leaving his 6-month-old daughter in a dangerously hot car outside the New London ShopRite supermarket Tuesday told police he was sending and receiving text messages at the time and forgot that the baby, who was sleeping, was in the car.
The child, left in the unlocked car for up to 30 minutes with just one window cracked open, was soaked in sweat and crying when police arrived but did not suffer any serious injuries.
When Brian Pavao, 33, of 142 Mather Ave. was presented in New London Superior Court Wednesday on a charge of risk of injury to a minor, prosecutor Rafael Bustamante noted the charge could have been much more serious had the child not been rescued.
More than 600 children in the U.S. have died after being left alone in hot cars since 1990, according to the nonprofit safety group Kids and Cars. New London police, hoping to educate the public and avert tragedy, posted information about the topic on its Facebook page Wednesday.
State law forbids adults from leaving children under 12 unsupervised in a car “for a period of time that presents a substantial risk to the child’s health or safety.” It is especially dangerous in the summer when car interior temperatures can get extremely hot in a short period of time.
Officials note that it is also illegal to leave young children unsupervised in a running car, even if the air conditioning is on. On June 27, East Lyme police arrested a man and woman who they said left an 11-month-old and a 3-year-old locked in a running vehicle at the Stop & Shop. The children were upset but unharmed. Elizabeth C. Elliott, 22, of Auburndale, Fla., and Andrew J. Froberg, 30, of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, were released on a written promise to appear in court and had to answer to the state Department of Children and Families, which was notified by police and took temporary custody of the children.
In the New London case, Officer Jeremy Zelinski responded to a 911 call and found the 6-month-old child buckled in her car seat in the back seat of a Honda Fit and noted in a police report that sweat had soaked her onesie and the car seat. The baby was breathing and alert but was taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital for treatment. A paramedic at the scene told police it was “very unusual” for a child that age to be sweating so profusely. A doctor who assessed the child told police she did not appear to have suffered any serious injuries, according to the report.
Pavao was held overnight and presented before Judge Kevin P. McMahon in the tank top and shorts he had been wearing when he was arrested.
At his arraignment, Bustamante, the prosecutor, argued for a $100,000 bond, noting Pavao is charged with a Class C felony, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He said that if things had “gone the other way,” Pavao could have been facing a much more serious charge.
Public defender Jennifer Nowak argued for a bond reduction based on the fact that Pavao works two part-time jobs and has no ability to pay. She said the facts of the case, once fleshed out, may tell a different story and noted that people all over the country have been charged with the same crime after becoming distracted or having a break in routine.
The judge said it appears to be more than a case of bad judgment and that seeing people get locked up “for not thinking better” could be a deterrent for others. He set the bond at $25,000 cash or surety.
“This one is a little more than stupid,” he said. “This is closer to the criminal side in my mind.”
While the majority of such cases are accidental, police in Georgia allege that Justin Ross Harris murdered his 22-month-old son Cooper, who died of hyperthermia after being left in his father’s SUV for seven hours on June 18. Harris had recently looked on the Internet to find out how hot it needed to be for a child to die inside a locked car, according to news reports.
In the New London case, Pavao came running out after the store paged the car’s owner, according to the police report. When he was told the child was breathing and alert, his worried demeanor changed to “calm with occasional laughter,” according to the report. He said that as he was parking, he was receiving and responding to text messages, which caused him to forget about the infant. He said he left the car at about 2:16 p.m. The police were called at 2:36 p.m., and a witness told them about 20 minutes had passed after someone pointed out the baby in the car.
After the baby was removed from the car and receiving medical attention, Sgt. Robert Picket, with Pavao’s permission, closed all of the windows except one, which he left open about 3 inches, and used a thermometer to read the temperature inside the car. In three readings, he recorded temperatures of 130.5, 131 and 130 degrees. The outside air temperature at the time, according to the Groton-New London Airport, was 76 degrees.
Pavao, placed in the police cruiser to be taken to headquarters, asked, “Can I roll down my window?” before the officer had placed the car in drive, according to the report.
Pavao works at the Big Y and Mystic Aquarium and has three other dependent children, two of them in Texas and one in Rhode Island, according to the bail commissioner.
Pavao, who is due back in court on July 15, previously received six months of probation in a domestic case.