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Orange County

No Charges in Heat Death

An Anaheim man says he forgot his infant daughter was in his van when he went to work.

September 24, 2004|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County district attorney's office will not press charges against an Anaheim man whose infant daughter died after he left her in a hot minivan this month, authorities said Thursday.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Simmons said that in the case of John Michael Dunton, "there was no evidence and no facts to support anything other than that he just forgot."

For the case to be considered criminal, Simmons said, "it's got to be more than just a mistake caused by inattention or forgetfulness. You'd have to have had some kind of knowledge that the child was in the car."

After the Sept. 9 incident, Dunton, 42, told police he had forgotten that his 5-month-old daughter was in the back seat because she was asleep and not banging her toys. He had left Jasmine buckled in a child safety seat in the car while he went to his job as a paralegal in Santa Ana.

Four hours later, he found her unconscious with heatstroke from which she died.

Robert Rentzer, Dunton's attorney, said his client was "greatly relieved and finds some solace in the fact that the district attorney's office, in its wisdom, recognized that his conduct was an accident." Rentzer said Dunton, who has been described by friends as a doting father, was "still having trouble forgiving himself."

At a hospital the day of the incident, Dunton tried to grab an officer's gun in an apparent suicide attempt. He was later arrested on suspicion of willful harm or injury to a child; he posted bail and was released.

The case was similar to one last summer in which UC Irvine professor Mark Warschauer forgot his 10-month-old son in a hot car while working in his office.

The child died, and Warschauer was never arrested or charged with a crime.

Last week, Rentzer sent a letter to Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas asking prosecutors to "make a compassionate decision" by declining to file charges in Dunton's case as they had done in Warschauer's.

Simmons said, however, that the letter played no role in Thursday's decision.

"Each case is obviously separate and apart from the next," he said.

"Each case is fact-driven and stands on its own."

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