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Abandoned Car Becomes Deathtrap for Boy : Tragedy: The family's search for the missing 4-year-old ended at the vehicle, across the street from a relative's house in Pacoima. Police say the temperature inside might have reached 125 degrees.

June 28, 1990|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The family of 4-year-old "Panchito" Hernandez gathered Wednesday at a house on a street in Pacoima, where the hottest day in the history of Los Angeles had transformed an abandoned car into a deadly oven that killed him.

"I don't understand why he got in the car," the boy's mother, Maria Hernandez, 20, said. "I don't know why he did it."

On Tuesday, a frantic Hernandez had pulled her son from the Ford LTD, which was parked across the street, about two hours after she noticed he was missing from her grandmother's house in the 12700 block of Judd Street.

Los Angeles police said Francisco Hernandez, nicknamed Panchito, was dead when officers and paramedics arrived about 5:30 p.m. A coroner's spokesman attributed the death to excessive heat caused by Tuesday afternoon's triple-digit temperatures. Police estimated that the temperature inside the car might have reached 125 degrees.

On Wednesday, children splashed in a plastic pool in the driveway as Hernandez was consoled by relatives.

The boy's father, 26-year-old landscape worker Francisco Cano, leaned on a fence talking quietly with two men.

Hernandez, who is separated from Cano, said she, Panchito and her 5-month-old daughter had walked from their nearby house to the house on Judd Street about 2 p.m. Tuesday. The boy began playing with cousins and friends who live next door. She noticed about half an hour later that he was not among the children playing near the house and began looking for him, first at a neighbor's house and then at a nearby park.

"When I noticed he was missing, I went all the way to the park, I thought he might be there playing with other kids," Hernandez said.

Friends and relatives joined the search. About 5 p.m., Hernandez's aunt remembered seeing the boy near the abandoned car, which residents said has been parked across the street since the owner went to jail in October. They said they had seen children playing near the car in the past, but never inside it.

After discovering the boy unconscious in the back seat, Hernandez and the others tried to revive him. A neighbor, who is a nurse, unsuccessfully attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

It is not clear whether the boy fell asleep or passed out after climbing into the car, police Detective Al Ferrand said. The car's windows were rolled up and the doors were closed, police said.

The funeral will be this weekend or Monday, relatives said. Panchito would have started school next year, his mother said.

His father said he last saw the boy when he visited him Sunday as he did each weekend.

"I would take him to the park, to the store," Cano said in Spanish. "He liked to play soccer, he liked his scooter."

Despite Tuesday's heat, Hernandez said, the boy had been energetic during the walk to the Judd Street house.

"Whenever we walked over here, he was always hanging in back, walking behind," she said. "Yesterday he was rushing, running in front."

Times staff writers Amy Louise Kazmin and Michael Connelly contributed to this story.

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