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A Florida fireman was arrested and charged with aggravated manslaughter in the death of his 23-month-old son who was left in a truck for eight hours Friday.
Troy Whitaker, 41, told authorities that he thought he had dropped his son, Lawson, off at daycare Friday morning after bringing his 5-year-old daughter to school.
But the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said he drove to his Palm Harbor home at 8:30 a.m. ET and didn't discover the toddler until 4:30 p.m. while he was unloading groceries from the truck.
Whitaker, a fireman with the Hillsborough County Fire Department, immediately called 911 and performed CPR on Lawson, who would have been 2 years old in about a month, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. But Lawson was already dead and officially pronounced deceased at Mease Countryside Hospital.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told reporters Friday night that the toddler's body temperature was about 108 degrees when he was discovered in his car seat.
He said Whitaker told investigators he deposited his daughter off at school, went home to study for a promotional firefighter exam, walked the dog, drove to a nearby Publix to food shop and drove home — all the while thinking he had also dropped his son off at daycare.
Whitaker had no alcohol or drugs in his system and doesn't suffer from mental health or memory issues, Gualtieri said.
"He was clearly negligent," Gualtieri said. "And he can offer no explanation other than he thought he dropped the kid off, and he didn’t, and that doesn’t make any sense quite frankly."
Gualtieri said the incident is under investigation, but he doesn't think Whitaker acted intentionally.
"I feel for the family, I feel for him, but he’s gotta be responsible for his actions," the sheriff added.
Whitaker was booked at the Pinellas County Jail on one count of aggravated manslaughter of a child. He was released on $50,000 bond Saturday, according to jail documents.
Friday's incident marks the 29th hot car-related death of a child this year, according to KidsAndCars.org. The child safety advocacy group said four of those incidents occurred in Florida.
At this time last year, 21 children had died as a result of being left in a hot car, KidsAndCars.org said.
Temperatures inside a car can reach a deadly 125 degrees within minutes, according to the organization, which recommends preventative measures like leaving a purse, wallet or phone with children in cars and asking school and daycare staff to call parents when their children aren't dropped off.