Firefighter Charged in Young Son's Hot Car Death

Police say there's no evidence father left toddler in car deliberately
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 11, 2016 5:36 PM CDT
Firefighter Charged in Young Son's Hot Car Death
An unrelated file photo of police tape.   (AP Photo/Juliet Linderman)

There was no evidence that a Tampa-area firefighter deliberately left his toddler son in a hot pickup truck for eight hours, but the circumstances amount to criminal neglect, a sheriff told a Florida newspaper, per the AP. Troy Whitaker, 41, of Palm Harbor, faces an aggravated manslaughter charge in the death of his 23-month-old son, Lawson. According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Whitaker left Lawson in his pickup truck for eight hours Friday instead of taking the boy to day care. "This is one of the toughest of all circumstances because of what it involves," Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times. "It involves a father who left his kid in the car for eight hours with no explanation." There was no evidence that impairment from drugs or alcohol was a factor in Lawson's death, Gualtieri said. The Pasco-Pinellas state attorney's office will decide whether to prosecute after doing its own investigation, said spokesman Bruce Bartlett.

Whitaker declined to speak with reporters when he was released on $50,000 bail early Saturday, according to the newspaper. Friends and neighbors questioned the decision to charge Whitaker, who the sheriff's office said was a firefighter for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. Whitaker strapped Lawson into his car seat in the truck Friday morning to take his 5-year-old sister to school, authorities said. Lawson, likely asleep, was left in the driver's side back seat, facing forward, while his father was inside their Palm Harbor home studying for a fire department promotional exam, the sheriff said. Whitaker walked his dog outside during the day and got into the truck to drive to the grocery store around 3:30pm without noticing the boy. The boy was discovered when Whitaker returned home and began unloading groceries around 4:30pm, according to the sheriff's office. A neighbor said Whitaker was screaming and inconsolable when he pulled the boy from the truck. (Read more child left in hot car stories.)

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