Citizens rescue toddler from hot and locked car at Oconee store

An Athens woman will be charged after her child was found inside a locked and hot car in the parking lot of the Walmart on Epps Bridge Road on Wednesday, according to Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry.

 

The deputy plans to secure an arrest warrant for the 39-year-old woman, Berry said Friday.

The incident occurred about 5:30 p.m., when the temperature was 94 degrees, according to the sheriff’s report.

“It was heartbreaking. My husband, who never sheds a tear, was almost ready to cry,” said Sheilah Barnett of Winder, who was one of the bystanders who sought to free the 23-month-old child.

Barnett said she was leaving the store when she encountered an Hispanic woman trying to explain in broken English to a Walmart employee about the child.

“The Hispanic people were at their car and their children heard the baby crying,” she said. The Hispanic woman returned to the store for help and Barnett said this is when she overheard the conversation.

“I said to the Hispanic lady, ‘Come on, I’ll call 911.’ I didn’t want waste time while the child was in the heat,” she said. Some others had gathered, and someone suggested breaking out a window.

“A Walmart employee got a stick and stuck it through the crack (in the window) and pushed the lock,” she said.

“By the time we got the baby out of the truck, his clothes were completely soaked like he had been in a swimming pool. He was lethargic. He wasn’t even crying by the time we got the car door open. It was scary,” said Barnett, who took the boy and placed him inside her vehicle and turned on the air conditioner.

A sheriff’s deputy and an ambulance arrived and upon checking, they found the child’s body was still hot, but he appeared alert.

The deputy located the mother, who explained that when she arrived at Walmart, the child was asleep so she left him in the car while went inside to get some milk. She said she then encountered issues at the checkout.

The deputy viewed the store video and determined the woman had been in the store for 18 minutes and the child was locked in the vehicle for 15 minutes. The temperature was 94 degrees and the car was in direct sunlight, the deputy said.

The Department of Family and Children Services was contacted and they released the boy to his mother because she is the only caregiver, Berry said. The deputy also decided to delay arresting the woman due to this fact, according to Berry.

The mother will be charged with cruelty to children, he said.

There are 19 states that have a law against leaving a minor child alone in a vehicle, but Georgia is not one of them.

“I’m a ‘less law is better’ type, but there is no good reason it shouldn’t be a crime to leave a child unattended in a car. I would not object to that being against the law,” the sheriff said.

The Hispanic couple who found the endangered child left soon after the rescue, Barnett said.

“I thanked them profusely over and over … . I said, ‘Thank you so much for doing that,’” she said.

And Barnett also approached the child’s mother.

“I let the woman have it,” she said.

 

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