Lake City woman arrested after her child found in locked van

Florida Department of Children and Families investigating

By Erik Avanier - Reporter

LAKE CITY, Fla. - A woman who was previously under investigation for allegedly leaving an unattended child in a locked vehicle was arrested on Sunday after Columbia County deputies said she left an infant in a hot van. 

Heather Marie Norenberg, 32, of Lake City, was arrested on a third-degree felony charge of child neglect.

According to the arrest report, an emergency medical supervisor was the first to arrive after deputies got a call about a baby left in a vehicle in the parking lot of the Dollar General store on U.S. 90 in Lake City.

Century EMS supervisor Jonathan Dowdy, who is also a White Springs police officer, found the child inside a 1997 Ford van with all the windows closed about 6:45 p.m. Sunday. Dowdy told deputies the infant had red cheeks and was profusely sweating. The deputy noted in his report that based on Dowdy’s training and experience, the infant appeared to be in distress inside a vehicle that had internal temperatures around 100 degrees based outside temperatures in the 90s.

“I get out of my vehicle and have my glass breaker in hand already," Dowdy told News4Jax on Monday. "I look inside the vehicle and see the kid is sweating and his cheeks are red, but he’s acting normal.”

Dowdy told the deputy he went inside the Dollar General store and yelled out multiple times, “Who’s golden van is this?”  According to the report, Norenberg approached him and said: “It’s mine. I’m coming.” 

Dowdy told her she left her child inside a hot vehicle and the child was in distress.  According to the report, she responded: “I only been inside for a minute and I don’t have any air conditioning in the vehicle.”

Dowdy and Norenberg went back to the van, where she unlocked it and took the child out so Dowdy could conduct a physical assessment of the child.

"I immediately took the child out of the vehicle and started cooling him off, raising up his shirt to cool him down, wipe off the sweat," Dowdy said Monday. "Eventually, the Dollar General employees started to bring out cool Pedialyte ... and they helped me cool him down a little bit more.”

Dowdy told the responding deputy that the infant was sweating heavily with redness to his face.  According to his assessment, the boy was not lethargic and appeared to be acting normal for a 1-year old. Dowdy also told the deputy the child was drinking warm milk inside the hot vehicle. 

Norenberg told the deputy she was only inside the store for a minute and that her van didn’t have air conditioning, which is why she parked in the shade. The responding deputy reminded Norenberg about the importance of not leaving a child in a nonrunning vehicle and according to the report, she understood and said it would not happen again. 

“A one-minute trip to the store is not one minute. It’s one minute getting out of the car. It's one minute to get into the store. It’s one minute to get the groceries you like," Dowdy said Monday. "So a one-minute trip turns into 10 minutes. Please don’t leave your child in the car."

Based on the report, the deputy was considering letting Norenberg off with a warning until another deputy who had dealt with Norenberg on a similar incident earlier this year filled him in on her background.

The report said Norenberg locked a screaming child in a locked vehicle that was not running in the parking lot of the same Dollar General on May 10.

Norenberg was arrested and booked into the Columbia County Jail and the child was turned over to a family friend who happened to be in the parking lot when deputies arrived. 

According to the report, Norenberg’s bond was set at $10,000 because this was the second time she allegedly left a child in a vehicle with the engine off and the windows closed. 

The Florida Department of Children and Families is investigating both incidents involving Norenberg. 

News4Jax also learned from sources close to the investigation that there was a third similar incident.

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