Police have detained a woman on charges of child endangerment, alleging that her 6-year-old grandson was found "sweating profusely and pleading for help" inside a hot, locked car in Gardena.
The Tuesday afternoon incident followed the deaths last weekend of two young Simi Valley brothers who were left in a minivan for four hours. Their mother has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
In the Gardena case, police said Dorothy Hollins, 54, was taken into custody and her grandson was turned over to the county Department of Children and Family Services after employees of a department store reported that the child was in the car.
Hollins reportedly fled the parking lot in her car rather than wait for police. Officers intercepted Hollins a few blocks from the store, said Det. Nick Pepper.
The case became more complicated when the boy's mother, Carmella Chase, drove to the Gardena police station to complain. A social worker detected alcohol on Chase's breath and a Breathalyzer test was administered, according to the woman and police.
When the breath test showed Chase's blood-alcohol level at twice the legal limit of 0.08%, the boy's five siblings were also taken into protective custody.
Chase was permitted to leave the station without being charged because she was not driving at the time the social worker saw her, Pepper said. But Hollins remains in custody on suspicion of child endangerment.
The grandmother told relatives that she left the boy in the car because he refused to accompany her inside the store, Chase said. She said she rolled down the windows and told her grandson he could leave the car and join her at any time, Chase said.
However, Gardena police said they had been notified that store employees rescued the boy from a locked car.
There have been numerous recent cases in the United States of children being left in closed vehicles during summer heat waves.
The San Francisco group Kids 'N Cars, which monitors such incidents, says that there have been six deaths in California and 34 nationwide in the last year related to children being left in overheated vehicles.
Janette E. Fennell, a co-founder of Kids 'N Cars, said Wednesday that her group is pushing legislation in Sacramento that would make it illegal to leave children unattended in vehicles.
A bill to that effect by state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) has cleared the Senate and is pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, according to Speier's office.
Authorities use child endangerment statutes to prosecute adults who leave children in overheated vehicles.
Other problems can occur when children are left unattended in vehicles, Fennell said. Children have died of carbon monoxide poisoning after being trapped in trunks, and in crashes resulting from brake failures.
She said there have been 17 deaths from those causes in the last year.