Autopsies Monday failed to pinpoint the precise cause of death of infant twins who police said were left "for more than an hour" by their mother in a closed car in Garden Grove on Sunday.
But the Orange County deputy coroner investigating the case said that even though the preliminary examination was inconclusive, "it is likely" that the 3-month-old babies died of heat prostration.
Further microscopic and toxicological studies were ordered late Monday. The results should be known in about four weeks, Cullen Ellingburgh, senior deputy coroner, said.
"We really can't say that (the twins died of heat stroke), although it is likely," Ellingburgh said. "Thermal deaths are very hard to prove," he added. "That's why a specialist has been called in to conduct the examinations."
The twins' mother, Beverly Jean Ernst, 25, of Anaheim, is expected to be arraigned today on charges of manslaughter and willful cruelty to children resulting in death, Garden Grove Police Sgt. Bruce Beauchamp said. Ernst, who told police she is a self-employed housecleaner, remained in Orange County Jail late Monday in lieu of $25,000 bail.
Ernst was arrested by police Sunday outside the janitorial supply store where she had parked her car in direct sunlight and gone inside to visit a male friend. About 12:30 p.m., police said, she returned to the car and discovered the children were not breathing. She told the store owner to call paramedics, who received the call at 12:38 p.m., while she and her friend tried unsuccessfully to revive her son, Adam Ray, and daughter, Ashley Rachelle.
Paramedics also failed to revive the babies, Fire Department dispatchers said, and the infants were declared dead upon arrival, shortly after 1 p.m., at two local hospitals.
Window Open Slightly
Investigators said the children--who were born prematurely and who underwent minor surgery to relieve a lung condition resulting from early birth--were left in car safety seats in the rear of Ernst's older-model Chevrolet with one window opened about an inch. Beauchamp said Monday that investigators believe the babies were inside the car for "at least an hour."
Ernst told police that the children had been unattended only about 20 minutes before she checked on them. But police arrested her at the scene, Beauchamp said, "because everything pointed to negligence almost immediately."
Leonard Wosic of Anaheim, who owns the supply business at 13261 Euclid Ave., and who has known Ernst about 15 years, said the young mother had left her twins in the car on other occasions. "She's done it a few times but not for any length of time," said Wosic, who was at his store Sunday when the tragedy occurred.
Ernst had been a recent customer at the store, purchasing cleaning chemicals from the shop about twice a week, Wosic said. He said she owed him money, and when she failed to repay him, he began checking into her financial situation. Wosic said he learned she was living with some friends on Hope Street in Garden Grove and receiving aid from a social services agency. But since he had gone to high school with Ernst's brother in Anaheim years before, Wosic said he did not press her for the money.
Discovery After 12:30
Three or four weeks ago Ernst met Scott Morrow, Wosic's business partner. Wosic said he thought the couple had broken up and was surprised to see Ernst at the supply house Sunday. He said the couple were in the back of the shop talking when he arrived to pick up some chemicals about noon.
"She was still there when I left about 12:30 p.m. (to buy soft drinks)," Wosic said. "I didn't even know the babies were in the car." Ernst discovered the babies were not breathing just minutes after he returned, Wosic said.
Ernst was unavailable for comment because the jail does not allow visits to female inmates on Mondays and Tuesdays.
According to court records, Ernst has two other children--a son, 6, and daughter, 4--by her former husband, Lloyd Kenneth Holt. Citing irreconcilable differences, Holt filed for divorce from Ernst in November, 1983. It was uncontested, and the marriage was dissolved in January, 1985.
Ernst was granted custody of their daughter, and Holt was granted custody of their son at the time. But according to Wosic, both children had been living with Holt in recent weeks.
Efforts on Monday to reach Holt, who lived at a Stanton condominium until a few months ago, were unsuccessful.