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Orange County

After Child's Hot-Car Death, Father Backs Alarm Systems for Parents

September 25, 2004|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

An Anaheim man whose infant daughter died earlier this month after he left her in a hot minivan said Friday that vehicles should have warning systems to remind parents that a child is inside. Flanked by his wife, Jennie, and attorney R. Dennis Rentzer, John Michael Dunton spoke for a few minutes at his attorney's Encino office, a day after the Orange County district attorney announced he would not pursue charges against the 42-year-old.

"Whatever happened was an accident," Dunton said. "If the case had gone forward, I know I would have been vindicated by a jury." Red-eyed but composed, Dunton, a paralegal for a law firm, said he would like to see a formal effort by industry officials to have alarm systems installed in vehicles. "I hope that the auto industry or the car seat manufacturers will have some kind of alarm or bell so [parents] won't forget their kid in a car," he said. Such technology is already being explored by carmakers.

Five-month-old Jasmine died Sept. 9 of heatstroke after Dunton left her in his vehicle when he arrived at work in Santa Ana. Four hours after parking the van, he came outside and suddenly realized he had not dropped her off at the baby-sitter's.

Rentzer said Friday that Dunton may never be able to answer why he forgot about her.

"He's said to me that he will be asking himself that [question] the rest of his life," Rentzer said. At the hospital where a medical team attempted to revive Jasmine, a distraught Dunton tried to grab a police officer's gun in an apparent suicide attempt. Doctors gave him a sedative to calm him.

Jennie Dunton, 33, a nurse at St. Jude's Medical Center in Fullerton, said she has forgiven him for the tragedy. "I know my husband loved and cared for [Jasmine]. It's all an accident. I would [have] stood behind him whatever happened."

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