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Father in hot car case had prior DUI with same kids in car

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published July 09. 2014 3:15PM   Updated July 10. 2014 12:16AM

A Waterford father charged with leaving his two children in a dangerously hot car Tuesday was charged earlier this year with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with the same two children in the car, according to a bail commissioner.

John R. Morgan, 60, of 7 W. Strand Road was arraigned in New London Superior Court Wednesday afternoon on two counts of risk of injury to a minor. New London police said they arrested him Tuesday after an officer spotted two children, ages 6 and 9, sitting in his parked car on State Street, dripping with sweat and with reddened faces. The police said windows were rolled up and the temperature inside the car was 100 degrees.

“They were actually opening the door, trying to get some air in,” said prosecutor Rafael Bustamante.

Police set Morgan’s bond at $150,000 Tuesday. A state bail commissioner reviewed the case and Morgan’s criminal history late that day and released him on a written promise to appear in court. Wednesday, Judge Kevin P. McMahon ordered a bond hearing due to the disturbing trend of children being left in hot cars in New London County and nationwide. He set the bond at $45,000, saying he had taken into consideration two similar cases that have occurred in the past two week and Morgan’s background.

“I think the bond should reflect the problem,” McMahon said. “People have to be aware this is a real problem.”

Morgan, who wore a suit and tie to court, was taken into custody briefly while his wife arranged to post the bond. He left the courthouse a short time later without commenting to print and television reporters.

During the bond hearing, defense attorney Dean J. Golembeski argued that Morgan, who has his own business teaching exam preparation courses and writing books, is a law-abiding citizen who should be released without bond. He said Morgan volunteers in the schools, is a historian and Cub Scout leader and has no criminal record.

Morgan had just serviced his car, and the air conditioning had been running before he turned off the car and left the children for 5 minutes to pick up supplies at his State Street office, according to Golembeski. He disputes the police allegation that they were on site for 10 minutes before Morgan returned to the car and said the temperature could not have been 100 degrees.

“He’s extremely sorry, and you’ll never see him again,” Golembeski said.

Morgan was granted a diversionary alcohol education program in his DUI case, according to Bail Commissioner Timothy Gilman, and is set to have the case dismissed in January 2015 if he successfully completes the program. Golembeski said the state Department of Children and Families investigated and said there was no need for the agency’s further involvement. He said the agency would likely investigate again as a result of the new charges.

“It bothers me a lot where he’s had a similar incident in a car with the same kids where he exercised bad judgment,” the judge said.

McMahon, noting this is the third local case involving children left in cars in two weeks, said he’s never seen anything like it in his 21 years on the bench.

On July 1, a Groton father was charged with leaving his 6-month-old daughter in a car outside the New London ShopRite supermarket after becoming distracted with text messages and forgetting the child. Police said the car’s interior temperature had reached 130 degrees. The child was treated and released from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.

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.

Tragedy has struck elsewhere in the state and country. On Monday, a 15-month-old boy died in Ridgefield after his father left his vehicle parked outside his workplace with his son inside, police said. 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.

Fifteen children across the country have died of hyperthermia in 2014, according to state police, who issued a reminder Monday that leaving children of any age unattended inside closed or locked vehicles during the summer is dangerous and can be fatal.

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.

State police have urged members of the public to call 911 if they see a child left unattended in a car.

k.florin@theday.com

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