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Parents Jailed After Children Left in Car : Crime: Girl, 3, who passed out, and brother, 18 months, are treated for heat exhaustion and released to county agency.

July 15, 1995|JEFF SCHNAUFER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — A Canoga Park couple left two small children in a sealed car under a bright July sun while they went shopping for nearly an hour Friday, until a 3-year-old girl passed out from the blistering heat, police said.

The parents were arrested on suspicion of felony child endangerment, police said, and the children appeared to be recovering after they were treated for heat exhaustion at Northridge Hospital Medical Center.

Luis Hernandez, 27, and his wife, Theresa, 32, were arrested and held on $50,000 bail after they left the girl and her 18-month-old brother in the car, with the windows up, in the parking lot while they shopped at the Strouds department store in Northridge, police said.

The children were turned over to the county Department of Children's Services.

Police praised security guard Stephanie Strouth, who they said opened up the baking car for the children and pointed police toward the parents.

"If anybody needs a pat on the back, it's the security guard for responding so quickly," said LAPD Officer Dave Tulk, who made the arrest.

A shopper reported that two children were locked inside a car parked in the lot of the store at Corbin Avenue and Nordhoff Street, the guard said. When she arrived at the car around 1 p.m., Strouth said, the girl was unconscious on the floorboard, "pale as a ghost with blood-red cheeks."

Surprised to find a door unlocked, Strouth quickly rolled down the windows and revived the girl while the infant boy lay quietly in the car seat. "The inside of the car was so hot I could barely stick my head in," said Strouth. "It was over 100 degrees."

The National Weather Service reported that the temperature reached 93 in Van Nuys on Friday afternoon.

Strouth said repeated efforts were made to reach the parents by paging them inside the department store. When the parents did emerge, she said, she told them that paramedics had been summoned to give the children medical attention. But Hernandez forced her away from the children and the family drove off, she said.

But before the car left the parking lot, Officer Tulk and his partner arrived, responding to Strouth's call for help, and caught up to them.

"I was amazed that parents in this day and age would leave their kids in a car like that in 100-plus degrees," said Tulk. "We get calls about people leaving their pets in the car for 15 minutes, let alone children."

Tulk said he hoped other parents would learn from the Hernandezes' experience the dangers of leaving children unattended in cars under the summer sun, and the legal penalties involved. "Unless they make bail, they'll be here for the weekend," Tulk said. "So they'll get the message that it's a serious offense."

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