JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 27-year-old man was arrested Sunday after he left a child in a car outside a Walmart on Philips Highway for more than a half-hour, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said.
Jacob Erlewine faces a charge of child neglect.
According to the arrest report, Erlewine's girlfriend was inside the store getting her nails done while he and the child were waiting in the car for her to finish.
But police said Erlewine decided to do some shopping, leaving the child alone and customers nearby alarmed.
Sharon Andrews told News4Jax that she was visiting from out of town when she noticed through a car window that a little girl was inside the vehicle by herself. Andrews decided to wait until the parents returned.
"The car was on," Andrews said when she recounted the incident on Monday. "I'm not going to call the cops. I'm going to wait for the parents to come. I'm just not going to leave because I can't do that. But I'm going to wait for the parents to come and I'm going to tell his *** how wrong he was."
But she said other customers saw the child and called police because they were concerned about the child's breathing.
"Her hair was covering her face, and all around her, it was, like, these blankets. It looks sort of like they were trying to hide the fact that she was in the car but she probably got too hot and pulled some of the covers down and fell back asleep," Andrews said.
When Erlewine returned, he tried lying to police, according to Andrews.
"Next thing you know, the parent came walking up, like, 'What happened?' That's when the cop was, like, 'Is this your car?' He said, 'Yes.' He (the police officer) says, 'Is this your kid in the car?' And he says, 'Yes,'" Andrews said.
She said the officer then asked Erlewine how long he had been away from the car.
"He says, 'Three minutes.' And then I said, 'Hold on now. Don't lie because we've been standing out here for over 10-15 minutes waiting for you to come back," she said.
Police said they were able to look at surveillance video that showed Erlewine leaving the child at 2:40 p.m. and he didn't finish shopping until 3:13 p.m., which was 33 minutes later -- enough time for several people to become concerned about the child and call for help.
According to the Sheriff's Office, police did not hand the child back over to the girlfriend, but placed her in the custody of another family member.
Erlewine was booked into the Duval County Jail and ordered held on $50,000 bond.
The Department of Children and Families was called to investigate.
"We strongly urge all parents that they should never leave a child unattended in a car for any length of time. There have been hundreds of child car deaths across the country over the past 15 years where children were left in a car. We strongly urge parents not to do that," said DCF spokesman John Harrell. "The child is safe and is care of relative as DCF continues to investigate.
In this case, police are using broad discretion in calling this child neglect. A local attorney told News4Jax that the only relevant law in Florida is one that states people cannot leave anyone under 6 years old in a running car for more than 15 minutes.