Man, woman shopped after leaving girl alone in hot car, Lake County deputies say

Wilfredo, Esperanza Garcia arrested on charges of child neglect

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

EUSTIS, Fla. - A 70-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman were arrested Monday in Lake County on allegations of leaving a child in their care inside a hot car while they shopped.

Wilfredo and Esperanza Garcia, of Eustis, were arrested on charges of child neglect.

According to the Lake County Sheriff's Office, deputies were called around 7:20 p.m. about a girl found alone inside a car in her car seat in the parking lot of the Kohl's department store at 2700 East Burleigh Boulevard in Eustis.

Deputies said the girl, who was asleep in a car seat, was visibly sweating.  The temperature outside at the time of the incident was 87 degrees, deputies said.

Wilfredo Garcia told Local 6 he and his wife were distracted and simply forgot.

"And in that moment we get out of the car the baby was sleeping and we forgot," said Garcia "Totally forgot. Not because we did it on purpose. That is the first time in all those years that I have been taking care of my grandchildren."

The Garcias are the great-grandparents of the child. They told Local 6 they're helping raise eight grandchildren and great-grandchildren at their home in Eustis.

"We are good person. We are Christian, we go to church, we teach our children all the good things, not the bad things. That happened, it happened to anybody, it happened to us. And we have to live with that."

Law enforcement officials made an announcement inside the store and Wilfredo Garcia, who was watching the child with his wife, came out about 10 minutes later and got the girl out, deputies said.

The girl was sweating and her cheeks were red, but she was not injured, officials said.

Garcia said he and his wife watch the child on a regular basis while the girl's mother is at work.

Police said surveillance video shows that the girl was alone in the car for about 35 minutes.

The Florida Department of Children and Families was contacted and the child was turned over to her mother.

The Garcias were arrested and taken to the Lake County Jail and have since bonded out.

"They treat us like criminal," said Garcia. "Because they saw how the baby was looking at us, how the baby was coming to us with love. That means that we take care of the baby real good."

Garcia's neighbors had only praise for the family and were upset the couple was arrested.

"They've never shown anything different than what you see," said neighbor Suzanne Medina. "Well-manicured, very kind, nice, I've watched them taking care of 3 different grandchildren since I've lived here."

"There's a difference between going to the bar and going to Kohl's," said Medina. "I'm sure they were going to Kohl's to exchange clothes for the kids. They take care of everyone."

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