Thursday, September 4, 2014
LEXINGTON PARK, Md. (AP) — A father was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of his 17-month-old son after he left the boy inside a hot vehicle at a Maryland naval base for more than six hours, Navy investigators said Thursday.
According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court, John Junek, 40, told investigators that he was supposed to take his child to day care at the Patuxent River Naval Station on Wednesday, but didn't. Instead, he drove straight to his office on the base and left his child in a rear-facing car seat after arriving at 8:50 a.m. that day, the document says.
At a hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, a judge released Junek 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 as they left court.
"He's devastated right now, grieving along with the rest of his family," said his attorney, Megan Coleman.
During the hearing, Coleman said the family preferred for Junek to live with his parents because it would be difficult for him to return home after his son's death. Prosecutors said their only concern was that all firearms be removed from the homes for the safety of the couple's older son, noting that a loaded gun was found on a nightstand in the Juneks' house. The judge ordered them to surrender all guns kept in the home.
Coleman did not address any specifics of the case during the brief hearing. She said her client had a solid reputation.
"I could honestly go on all day about Mr. Junek and what a pillar of the community he has been outside of this case," she said.
The document from a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent says Junek used his vehicle to go to an early-afternoon meeting, lowering the windows and turning on the air conditioning because of the hot temperatures. But he said he didn't notice the boy inside. According to the complaint, Junek realized he might not have dropped the boy off after his wife called later in the afternoon to ask about the child's car seat. Junek discovered the unconscious boy and dialed 911, the complaint says.
By that time, the boy had been in the car for 6 1/2 hours, the document says. Temperatures at the base reached 85 degrees on Wednesday. The boy was pronounced dead at the scene after emergency workers failed to revive him.
Junek had dropped off his 4-year-old son at preschool before arriving at the base for work and parking his car about 8:50 a.m., the document says.
He told the investigator that when he used the car to get to a meeting in a different building on the base at 1 p.m., he was in a hurry and did not notice that his younger son was still in the car seat, according to the complaint. He got the call from his wife at 3:20 p.m. and called 911 a few minutes later, the document says, meaning the boy had been inside the car for about 6 ½ hours.
At an address listed for the family in Leonardtown, about 13 miles from the naval base, there were signs of young children everywhere. A large, plastic toy boat sat in the yard next to two strollers, a double stroller and a single one. A blue child-size swing hung from a large tree in front of the two-story house with blue shutters. Two cars were parked in the driveway, which was marked off with orange cones, and two dogs slept in a kennel near the home, but no one answered the door Thursday afternoon. A package from Amazon was left outside one door.
Associated Press writers Ben Nuckols in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Amanda Lee Myers in Washington contributed to this report.