LEXINGTON PARK, Md. (AP) — A father forgot to drop his 17-month-old son off at day care at the Maryland naval base where he works and left the toddler in his car seat for more than 6 hours, where the boy died in scorching midday heat, authorities said Thursday.
John Junek, 40, told investigators he dropped off his 4-year-old son at preschool Wednesday morning and was supposed to take his younger son to daycare at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, according to a charging document filed in federal court. Instead, he went straight to his office and didn't notice his son in the rear-facing car seat even when he used the car later to go to a midday meeting, the document said.
Junek was charged with involuntary manslaughter. During a hearing Thursday afternoon, a judge released him to the custody of his parents, who live near his home in Leonardtown.
Junek showed little emotion as he said "Yes, your honor," when asked whether he understood his rights. As he left the courtroom, his gaze lingered in the direction of his wife, Annette; his parents; his sister and his brother-in-law. His relatives declined to comment upon leaving the court.
"He's devastated right now, grieving along with the rest of his family," said Megan Coleman, one of his attorneys.
According to the charging document, Junek parked outside his office at 8:50 a.m. Wednesday and left the boy in the car. He didn't notice the boy when he used the vehicle hours later to attend an early-afternoon meeting, lowering the windows and turning on the air conditioning because of the heat, the document said.
According to the document, Junek realized he might not have dropped the boy off after his wife called later in the afternoon. Junek discovered the unconscious boy and dialed 911. By that time, the toddler had been in the car for 6 ½ hours. He was pronounced dead after emergency workers failed to revive him.
Temperatures at the base reached 85 degrees Wednesday. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the temperature inside a car with the windows up can reach deadly levels in 10 minutes if the outside temperature is in the low 80s.
The number of children who die of heatstroke inside cars has remained remarkably consistent since 2000, according to kidsandcars.org, a nonprofit that tracks such deaths. There were 44 such deaths last year, and since 2000, the fewest in a year has been 29 and the most has been 49.
Deaths of children left in cars have garnered attention recently after the death of a 22-month-old boy in June in Georgia. That boy's father was indicted Thursday on multiple charges including murder after prosecutors said he intentionally left his son to die in a hot car while he sat in his office exchanging nude photos with women.
Junek's lead attorney, Robert Bonsib, said the circumstances in his client's case are far different.
"At the end of the investigation, I believe that what's going to happen is they're going to conclude this was a tragic accident and that the events do not support criminal charges," he said.
Speaking to reporters Thursday outside the base, Marine Brig. Gen. Frank L. Kelley, Vice Commander Naval Air Systems Command, said the family had suffered a "tragic loss" and that base officials had offered them counseling and support.
At the family's home, miles from the base, there were signs of young children everywhere. A large, plastic toy boat sat in the yard next to two strollers, and a blue child-size swing hung from a large tree near the two-story house. No one answered the door Thursday afternoon.
During the hearing in federal court in Greenbelt, Coleman said the family preferred for Junek to live with his parents because it would be difficult for him and his wife to return home after their son's death.
Nuckols reported from Greenbelt, Md. Associated Press writer Amanda Lee Myers in Washington contributed to this report.