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Metropolitan Digest / LOS ANGELES COUNTY NEWS IN BRIEF

Father Who Left Baby in Hot Car Pleads Innocent to Felony Count

August 17, 1994|ANN W. O'NEILL and BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A high school English teacher, described as an intellectual and dedicated family man, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a felony charge of endangering his 20-month-old son by leaving him locked in a car Sunday in 100-degree heat.

While noting that the actions of Dennis Karl Fischer, 34, "will not go down in the annals of history as the smartest thing," Van Nuys Municipal Judge Leland Harris nonetheless reduced bail from $50,000 to $10,000, taking into account Fischer's clean record.

The judge said that Fischer did not intend to hurt his son, and that the boy did not require medical treatment.

Darleen Fischer, the defendant's wife and mother of the victim, said she is standing by her husband. She said she considers the criminal charge against him to be "overblown." Social workers returned the boy to her custody.

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Fischer, who teaches 10th- and 12th-grade English and is the department chairman at Fremont High School in South-Central Los Angeles, was ordered to return to court Sept. 13 to schedule a preliminary hearing.

The hearing will determine whether he will stand trial in Superior Court on the felony child-endangerment charge, which carries a maximum six-year prison sentence.

Police and prosecutor David Mintz allege that Fischer left his son, Jarred, locked inside the car in front of a Foster's Old Fashioned Freeze in the 7300 block of Reseda Boulevard on Sunday afternoon.

Accounts vary of how long the child was left in the car. Fischer estimated that his son was alone for five minutes, but passersby told police he was gone 20 minutes or more, Mintz said.

The toddler began screaming, and passersby pulled him from Fischer's Honda Civic, using a fan belt to unlock the door, Mintz said.

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Mintz said the temperature inside the car was estimated at 110 degrees and that the child could have suffered brain damage or death.

The prosecutor added that the three rescuers found the child flushed and perspiring, so they gave him water, wrapped him in a wet towel and kept him in an air-conditioned car to lower his body temperature. He said one of the three rescuers dialed 911.

Fischer also called police when he came out of the store and found the boy gone, fearing that his son had been kidnaped.

The people who rescued the child refused to return him to Fischer until police arrived. Officers took Fischer into custody at the scene.

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"I just find all this amazing," said Laura Holden, a physical education teacher and the teachers union representative at Fremont.

"People are just shocked," said Marcia Hines, an assistant principal at Freemont. "They're saying, 'No, it couldn't be him.' "

She added, "He's really a fine teacher. He's responsible and reliable. He really has a spotless record with teaching. He's an intellectual."

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