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Girl Found Dead Inside Father's Van

Crime: He is arrested on suspicion of murder after allegedly leaving her for four hours.

July 25, 2002|HECTOR BECERRA | trimmed 5 lines

A Fontana man was arrested on suspicion of murder Wednesday after his 3-year-old daughter was found dead in his van, where he allegedly left her with the windows rolled up in 102-degree heat for up to four hours.

Police said John Morgan, 52, had been running errands with Angelina Rose Morgan on Tuesday when he parked his Chevrolet Astro van in his driveway on Mesa Drive, took groceries into the house and went to sleep.

He awoke several hours later, at 5:20 p.m., to his wife screaming, police said.

Rosa Morgan had found Angelina's body strapped in her car seat. The temperature in the van may have reached 130 degrees, said Vicki Aubry, a spokeswoman for the Fontana Police Department.

Neighbor Martha Valles said she and her daughter heard the screams and went outside.

"She was screaming and running with her baby in her arms," Valles said. John Morgan stood in the front yard looking stunned as his wife ran to a house three doors down, Valles said.

"The husband was out there, walking in circles. He didn't say anything. He looked like he was just astonished, in shock," Valles said. "But his wife was screaming. It was awful."

Rosa Morgan knocked on a neighbor's door, but no one was home, Valles said.

"She screamed, 'Call the police, my daughter is dead,' " Valles said. Several neighbors called police, who arrived in minutes, Valles said, and the husband was led out of the house in handcuffs.

He was booked on suspicion of murder, but prosecutors could reduce the charge to manslaughter or wrongful death, Aubry said.

Angelina was the second Southland child to die within a week in a hot car.

A 23-year-old Hacienda Heights woman was arrested Saturday after allegedly leaving her 4-month-old son in a car for more than seven hours at an undisclosed location in the San Gabriel Valley. Sheriff's deputies said Roxanne Rodrigo's child died the previous Wednesday, but she told no one. On Saturday, she led her father to her car and showed him the body. She was arraigned this week on murder charges.

In June in San Francisco, a 5-month-old died in a hot vehicle with the windows rolled up. Her grandfather Lonnie Earl Sopko, 60, told police he was supposed to supervise the child, but forgot she was in his car.

Last year, a Simi Valley woman was sentenced to a year in county jail after her sons, 3 years and 13 months, died in a sweltering van in the family's driveway. Marlene Heath, 40, had fallen asleep in the house after drinking wine.

Also last year, in Rialto, a 3-year-old died after her foster mother was distracted by the family's blind dog and left the child in the car.

And in 1999, two children died within two weeks, one in Temecula and one in Claremont, both after being left in hot cars.

In Fontana, neighbors said Angelina's father was usually with her during the day because his wife often worked nights as a nurse. Morgan worked at home, and used to ride his bicycle with Angelina in a basket in the front.

Every day, father and daughter would come outside to pick up the mail. She was a noisy, exuberant little girl with short blond hair and blue eyes, neighbors said.

Valles' husband, Carlos, expressed sympathy for Angelina's father. "Poor man. He must be dying of sadness, locked up in jail and accused of killing his little girl," Carlos Valles said. "I'm sure it was an accident, a horrible tragedy."

The Valleses said they visited Rosa Morgan late Tuesday before she left for her mother's house.

"She was crying, crying, crying. We told her to take care and to accept this as the will of God," Carlos Valles said.

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Times staff writer Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.

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