A 23-year-old Jacksonville woman is charged with five counts of child neglect after police said she left five children in a car in 92-degree heat Wednesday while getting a job application form at a Northside business.
Betty Brunson's relationship with the children is unclear. According to the Department of Children and Families, the children are from three different families, and four are younger than 6, including a baby. The fifth child is 8 years old.
A witness alerted police to the kids in the car, which was turned off with the windows rolled down 4-6 inches, police said.
"It is just so deeply disturbing,” said John Harrell, spokesman for the Department of Children and Families. “We would think that anybody who had a conscience would be very concerned about this."
They said officers stayed with the car and had Brunson paged in the Dunn Avenue store.
Police said they checked store surveillance against the time the witness called and determined she'd been in the store 15 minutes.
The children did not need medical attention.
DCF was notified, and Harrell said the case is under investigation.
The law in Florida says any parent, legal guardian or other person who is responsible for a child 6 or younger should not leave the child unattended in a car longer than 15 minutes while the vehicle is turned off. However, do not leave children unattended for any period of time if the car is running or if the health of the child is in danger.
Any person in violation of the law commits a misdemeanor of the second-degree and is guilty of a noncriminal traffic infraction, which is punishable by a fine no less than $50 and no more than $500, as of June 2010, the law says.
With all the publicity surrounding recent cases, including one in Atlanta where a toddler died, Cynthia Dennis of Safe Kids of Northeast Florida said it's frightening that children continue to be left in dangerously hot cars.
"It's awful to think about what a child goes through and to think about them being strapped in a car seat and defenseless, not being able to help themselves,” Dennis said.
Harrell said he's surprised it's still happening and that no children in our area have died from these incidents.
He said it's a reason to keep an eye out for any child left alone in a car.
“(If anyone sees a child in a car), they should immediately call 911,” Harrell said. “Don't just assume that someone else is going to do that because that child's life could be at risk."
The US Transportation Secretary reminded parents nationwide Thursday about their ongoing public education campaign called "Where’s Baby? Look Before you Lock." The campaign is geared to remind parents not to leave their child unattended in a hot car.
From 1998 to the year 2013 all but four states reported a child, dead from heatstroke inside a vehicle. Florida had the second highest rate with 66 reported deaths, Texas was the worst with 91 reported deaths.
"Parents just forget to look in the back seat, especially when their routines change and bad things happen," said US Department of Transportation Secretary, Anthony Fox. "Here’s what we want people to know, first and foremost, never leave your child alone in a car period. Never."