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O'Fallon, Ill., father charged in death of toddler left in hot car

O'Fallon, Ill., father charged in death of toddler left in hot car

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O’FALLON, Ill. • As 23-month-old Nathan Hubert was dying in a sweltering car parked outside his home here Thursday, his father lay on the floor of the home, passed out and drunk, police said.

Wayne M. Hubert, 32, was charged Friday with involuntary manslaughter and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. The second endangering charge, a misdemeanor, involves his nearly 5-year-old daughter because she was left at the home unattended while he was passed out, police say. Hubert was being held on $250,000 bail.

Nathan was found dead and strapped in a car seat about 5 p.m. Only one window was partially open during the time Nathan was in the car. Police say Hubert had loaded the child into the car about two hours earlier, then returned inside the home and passed out.

The St. Clair County Coroner’s office said Nathan’s body temperature was 104.7 degrees when he was found.

The temperature outside was 90 or 91 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. O’Fallon police Chief John Betten said he didn’t know the exact temperature of the car Thursday after the boy was found. Experts say a car’s interior could have reached 135 degrees or higher under those conditions.

He said officers on Friday were working to recreate the events.

The boy was discovered after the boy’s mother returned from work and saw the child inside the car. The child was taken into the home and the mother called 911, but the boy was already dead.

“As a result of that long of an exposure in the 90s for somebody less than 2, the consequences were going to be dire,” Betten said.

Both parents were at the home when police arrived. Nathan’s mother, Tere Hubert, works in the St. Louis Blues box office.

Autopsy results were not available Friday.

The boy is the 14th child to die in the U.S. this year after being left in a hot car, according to research compiled by Jan Null, a lecturer of meteorology at San Francisco State University who keeps such statistics. Those deaths have been from Idaho to Florida and since May 10.

“People don’t think it can happen to them,” said Janette Fennell, president of the advocacy group “No one is immune from this.”

After 10 minutes, the average temperature inside a car is 19 degrees higher than the outside air temperature, according to Null’s data. After another 10 minutes, it goes up 10 more degrees.

“This happens way too often,” Null said. “There are slow-cook recipes that are in these temperature ranges. These are horrific deaths.”

The St. Louis area has seen several heatstroke deaths of children left in vehicles in recent years.

In 2007, a pediatrician and her husband had started a new morning routine the day they left their 7-month-old baby girl in a hot car. The mother apparently thought her husband knew to take the baby to the day-care center on the medical school’s campus. The father told police he didn’t see the baby in the back seat.

Sophia Knutsen died of hyperthermia within an hour. The temperature outside topped out at 95 degrees that day. Experts said the car’s interior could have reached 140. The St. Louis circuit attorney’s office never charged either parent with a crime.

Friday morning, outside the home in the 300 block of Joy Drive, a police officer was standing guard. Two vehicles were in the gravel driveway, a pickup and a Hyundai Elantra that apparently was brought back to the scene Friday morning. No one answered the phone at the single-story house with yellow siding. On the side yard was a blue plastic kiddie pool and a soccer ball. The parents could not be reached, nor any relatives.

Keith Richter, 63, a neighbor who lives across the street, said he gave the family the kiddie pool as a gift.

“They are fantastic people,” Richter said. “From what I could observe, they always seemed to be very attentive and well-caring parents. Unfortunately, it was just a tragic accident and that I know, he would never do anything intentionally to harm his children.”

On the Elantra, one of the rear windows was down about halfway. Null said that would make only a slight difference in the heat inside the car. He said he conducted studies in 2002 where he measured temperatures inside and outside of vehicles in Fremont, Calif. He then worked with pediatric physicians to write an analysis to look at what happens to the human body in those temperatures.

In one of Null’s studies, all four windows were cracked an inch and a half. “That only made a difference of only two or three degrees,” Null said. “Instead of 135, you’re only at 133 baking your child.”

In an average year in the U.S., 37 children die of heatstroke after being left in hot vehicles. Null said he does these studies to raise awareness. “The numbers have not continued to go up. They haven’t gone down significantly either,” he said.

Since 1998, Illinois has had 13 such deaths of children in hot cars. The boy would be the 14th in Illinois. Missouri has had 16 since 1998.

Robert Cohen and Tara Kulash of the Post-Dispatch staff contributed to this report.

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