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Grandfather charged in child's death in hot car

Abusive BehaviorJustice SystemChild AbuseScott Shellenberger

A 55-year-old Baltimore man has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of involuntary manslaughter after his 16-month-old granddaughter was found dead in a hot truck in mid-July, police said.

The charges filed in Baltimore against Anthony Jerome Towles come more than three months after the body of Sabriya Towles was discovered in her grandfather's truck in Lansdowne. The medical examiner ruled at the time that her death was accidental and the result of hyperthermia, the medical term for excessively high body temperatures.

But authorities say the investigation revealed the child had died while the car was in Baltimore City, in the 2500 block of S. Paca St. City prosecutors took control of the case and presented it to a grand jury, which handed up the indictment Oct. 2, records show.

Towles was arrested Oct. 5 and posted $25,000 bond, officials said. He could receive a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison if convicted.

Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, declined to comment on the case except to say that "based on the evaluation of the evidence, this is the appropriate charge."

A person who answered the phone at a number listed for Towles declined to comment Tuesday, and no attorney was listed in online court records.

Baltimore County police said this summer that Towles was supposed to drop the girl off at the Highland Village Head Start Center on the morning of July 5. Authorities say he instead drove to their shared home — the Paca Street address — and went inside to sleep, leaving her in the vehicle.

Police and fire units were called to the 4100 block of McDowell Lane just before 1 p.m., and the child was pronounced dead at St. Agnes Hospital.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said Towles' car was in Baltimore County for a limited period of time and "that the death likely occurred in the city."

"While there's a presumption that a person has died where the body is located, that presumption can be rebutted by facts," Shellenberger said.

Donna Schindele of Brooklyn said her daughter is friends with Sabriya's mother and often baby-sat Sabriya. "It's a tragedy, and him being charged won't bring her back. But I don't understand how you can only drive two miles and forget you had a child in your vehicle," Schindele said.

Attempts to reach Sabriya's mother were not successful.

Across the country, 42 children have died this year from heatstroke after being left in cars, according to figures complied by Jan Null, a geosciences professor in San Francisco who tracks such cases. That is up from 33 total cases in 2012.

In Null's examination of such deaths since 1998, slightly more than half were the result of a caregiver forgetting about the child.

Criminal charges are filed in about half the cases, Null told The Baltimore Sun in July. Maryland has a law against leaving children under the age of 8 unattended in a car, and in the 2011 legislative session lawmakers made child neglect a misdemeanor crime.

The same day of Sabriya's death, an 8-month-old Alexandria, Va., boy died after his mother left him in the car before going to work. The boy's mother was charged with felony child neglect in that case and released on $25,000 bond.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Abusive BehaviorJustice SystemChild AbuseScott Shellenberger
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