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Infant Son Left in Car by UCI Professor Dies

The father leaves the 10-month-old in his vehicle at the university. The boy is found more than three hours later. Charges are possible.

August 09, 2003|David Haldane and Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writers

A 10-month-old boy died Friday after his father, a UC Irvine professor, left him unattended for more than three hours in a locked car on a campus parking lot in 80-degree heat.

Authorities did not release the father's name, but several law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, and neighbors identified him as Mark J. Warschauer, 49, vice chair of the university's Department of Education and an associate professor of information and computer technology.

"He arrived on campus about 8:30 a.m., parked, locked the car and went in," said Lt. Jeff Love, a spokesman for the Irvine Police Department. "About noon he saw a commotion around the car, came out and learned that he'd left the child in there. Apparently he didn't realize it."

The child, whose family called him Mikey, was discovered by passersby in the four-door vehicle parked in a lot adjacent to the university's education department in the 400 block of Berkeley Avenue, where Warschauer works, shortly before noon. They notified campus police officers, who shattered the car's rear right window and removed the boy. He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

"It's a terrible, terrible event," Love said. "Really bad. Our investigators are looking into it. Obviously a child died, so there could be criminal charges of child endangerment."

Love said an autopsy will be performed next week.

"Based on the autopsy, I think we'll know by next week if there will be child endangerment charges," he said.

It is not unusual for charges to be filed in such cases. Late last month, a Lancaster day-care operator pleaded not guilty to child-abuse charges after two of her foster sons died of heat exposure when they were left unattended for hours in her car. A Fontana man was arrested on suspicion of murder last year after his 3-year-old daughter died in his van where he had allegedly left her in 102-degree heat. Also that year, a Simi Valley mother was ordered to serve a year in county jail after pleading no contest to leaving her two young sons, who died, in a sweltering minivan while she lay asleep after drinking some wine.

The father in the Irvine case was questioned by police Friday, Love said, but not arrested. People at his home on Harvey Court near the campus declined to comment Friday, as did university officials.

According to a resume posted on the university's Web site, Warschauer has been at UCI since 2001 when he arrived after being director of educational technology at the U.S. Agency for International Development in Cairo. Before that, the resume says, he was a Fulbright Scholar in the Czech Republic and taught at universities in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and Moscow. The resume indicates that the professor is an expert on the integration of information and communication technologies who has written several books on that and other subjects. His interests, it says, include bicycling, chess and water sports.

Neighbors Friday described Warschauer as a doting father and said that he and his wife of five years, Keiko Hirata, wanted very much to be parents and had used fertility drugs to conceive.

"Keiko and I are happy to announce that our first child, Michael Kai Warschauer, was born Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2002, at 3:59 p.m.," the professor wrote last year in an Internet newsletter he publishes called Papyrus News.

Among Warschauer's duties was dropping the baby off at a day-care center, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the case. Neighbors on the street where he and his wife live said they couldn't imagine what happened on Friday.

"I said, 'There's no way -- it could not be him,' " said Patricia Torres, sobbing after hearing the news.

Torres and her husband, also a professor, said the Warschauers were incredible parents, very responsible and loving, who always talked through every decision regarding their son, especially those involving child care.

"They were always concerned that Mikey might get a cold at day care," said Patricia Torres, adding that Warschauer had recently been given tenure, which was important to him because he was looking forward to raising his son in the neighborhood. "They love Mikey more than anything."

Kristie Hickok, another neighbor, agreed: "He just loved that baby. He brought him around and would say, 'Say hi, Mikey.' "

Late Friday afternoon, the family car -- its rear window still broken -- sat parked in front of the house.

"I can't believe this would happen to this man," Hickok said.

Often, she said, Warschauer could be seen carrying Mikey around the neighborhood on his hip or playing with him on a blanket in the frontyard.

"He was more devoted to his kid than any man I know," she said. "He was just an unbelievable dad. He loved that baby like he was his last breath.... I just saw him two days ago playing on the grass with him. He was a very happy little kid. It's very sad."

*

Times staff writers Scott Martelle and Zeke Minaya and Times wire services contributed to this report.

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