Baby Left in Back Seat of Sweltering Car in Howell NJ, Placed in Custody of Her Father
On August 30, 2016, two good Samaritans rescued a four-month-old baby who was locked in the back seat of her mother’s car at a Howell NJ parking lot.
Steven Eckel of Jackson NJ and Sarah Mazzone of Howell NJ were walking in the Kohl’s parking lot in Howell when they saw a screaming baby in the back seat of a car. Eckel later told police that “it was a little baby wrapped up in a woolen blanket – crying, sweating, eyes rolling in the back of her head.” In response to the dire situation, Eckel smashed the car’s window and rescued the baby. According to police officers who responded to the scene, the car’s engine was turned off and the windows were closed. With the outside temperature approaching 90 degrees, the baby could have died had Eckel not taken action.
As a result of allegedly placing the child in the perilous situation, the child’s mother, 33-year-old Karen Gruen, now faces criminal charges for endangering the welfare of a child. The available information does not indicate whether the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) was called to the scene.
After authorities became aware of the situation, the at-risk child was turned over to the custody of her father. However, the immediate outcome of this case could have been far different if the father was unable to take custody of the child. For instance, if DCP&P had received a referral regarding the situation, it could have been coded as a case that required an immediate investigation and resulted in the emergent removal of the child due to the risk of harm to the child, as well as the actual harm to which the child was subjected. Moreover, DCP&P could very well substantiate an allegation of abuse or neglect against Gruen due to the risk of death that resulted from the child being left alone in a locked car on a hot summer’s day.
In New Jersey, there is no bright line rule that leaving a child alone in a car is automatically considered child abuse or child neglect – as with all assessments of whether or not a parent abused or neglected their child, the inquiry is fact-sensitive and depends on the totality of the circumstances. However, in this particular case the facts are reportedly so egregious (as stated by the police officers, the child could have died from being exposed to the sweltering heat in the enclosed car) that it is likely that DCP&P would substantiate an allegation of child abuse or neglect against the mother in this case.
Four Month Old Baby Left in Hot Car Howell NJ – Child Abuse and Neglect Charges
To learn more about the role of the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency in investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect and emergent removals of children from their parents’ custody, click here.