JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville man was honored Thursday for his quick actions that saved a baby from a hot car earlier this year.
The baby's mother, Zoya Thomas, was arrested and charged with child neglect after police said she left her 2-month-old baby girl alone in her car, which was parked in full sunlight outside a home improvement store.
It was 85 degrees outside in late March and the child was alone for more than 15 minutes.
A bystander who took a baseball bat to a window to rescue the baby received the highest civilian honor by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
William Strickland, 39, said it seems like yesterday that he went to a Lowe's in East Arlington to grab a light fixture.
"There was a couple of guys frantically around this one car in the parking lot and just reading their faces, I knew something was wrong,” Strickland said.
Inside the car was the 2-month-old strapped in her car seat, alone and in distress.
"I went over and looked in the window and as soon as the baby saw me she let out this horrible cry,” Strickland said.
He said that as a father of three, he went into parent-mode.
Without hesitation, Strickland ran to his car, grabbed a baseball bat out of the trunk and broke the passenger's side front window.
He ran the baby into the store to cool her down.
The officer presenting the award Thursday said that when Strickland rescued the baby from the vehicle, the child's clothing and car seat were completely soaked in sweat.
“It was heartbreaking. It angered me to know somebody would do that and do it on purpose,” Strickland said.
As he held the baby in the store, he ran into Thomas.
“I asked her, 'Is this your child?' And she was like, 'Yeah, I just came in to get these paint samples.' At no point did she attempt to grab her baby from me,” Strickland said. "It shocked me, but the only thing that kept me calm is that I had this sleeping baby in my arms. I clenched down my teeth and looked at her and said, 'You left your baby in a car.' She looked overwhelmed. She looked like she was in over her head and didn't know what to do."
When police arrived, Thomas was charged with child neglect, the child was checked out by emergency personnel and the Department of Children and Families was called.
Police said Strickland saved the baby's life, and that's why the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office chose to honor him as a hero.
Strickland said he hopes his story will inspire others to take action when they see something wrong.