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Mother Sentenced for Locking Sons in Trunk

Courts: She couldn't afford day care, so she used car, she said. She gets three months in jail.

August 01, 2001|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Jose mother who said she couldn't afford day care was sentenced Tuesday for her alternative solution: repeatedly locking her two small sons in her car trunk while she worked, at one point turning up a radio to drown out one child's cries.

Prosecutors and safety advocates called it an extreme example of parents leaving children in cars, a rash of negligence that has plagued the state this summer.

Rosemarie Radovan, 31, was arrested in November. Prosecutors say that on at least 10 occasions she left her children, then ages 5 and 7, in the trunk while she worked at a Bay Area electronics manufacturing company.

Once, when a co-worker riding in Radovan's car told her he heard what sounded like a child moaning from the trunk, Radovan turned up the radio and told the man the car seemed to be haunted, prosecutors said.

Radovan was sentenced to three months in jail and five months of home detention. She pleaded no contest in March to two counts of felony child endangerment.

"Her case is off the Richter scale; she was using the car trunk as a substitute for child care, as a baby-sitter," said Janette E. Fennell, co-founder of Kids 'N Cars, a San Francisco-based nonprofit national organization.

The case is part of a recent series of such incidents. In the last month, there have been at least four incidents statewide involving children left in vehicles. Three of them died, including a 5-month-old San Jose boy who died last week after his father left him in a car in which temperatures soared to more than 100 degrees.

The parent was charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony child endangerment.

Fennell said such cases are rising at an alarming rate. Nationwide, there were 29 such deaths in 1999 and 54 last year, she said. Already this year, there have been 47 deaths.

"Parents should never leave a child unattended in a vehicle--for any reason, for any amount of time," she said.

Kids 'N Cars is sponsoring legislation to make California the 10th state to outlaw leaving young children unattended in cars. The bill, by state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), would impose a $100 fine when a child under the age of 6 is left alone, even if the child is uninjured. The fines would fund public education programs, including classes for violators.

Fennell said that beginning Sept. 1, federal law calls for all new cars to feature trunk releases that can be triggered from inside.

At her sentencing Tuesday, Radovan repeatedly broke down before Judge Robert Ambrose, telling him how sorry she was and how much she loved her children, said Dan Nishigaya, a deputy district attorney for the Santa Clara County prosecutor's office.

On some occasions, the car's back seat was lowered so the boys could crawl from the trunk into the passenger section, Nishigaya said. The children were never otherwise physically harmed, he said.

Nishigaya said prosectors dismissed Radovan's claims that she could not afford day care, saying she drove a relatively new car.

Radovan has been in counseling and working on her parenting skills in hopes of being reunited with her sons, he said. She must appear before a Family Court judge if she wishes to retain custody of the boys, who have been living with her parents.

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