Polk couple charged in death of toddler left in hot car

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd speaks on couple's homicide arrest
Published: Jul. 7, 2023 at 6:44 AM EDT
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LAKELAND, Fla. (WWSB) - A Lakeland couple has been arrested after they left their 18-month-old girl in a hot car after a night of partying on the Fourth of July, the Polk County Sheriff’s office said.

Joel and Jazmine Rondon, both 33, have been charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child, a first-degree felony.

“This is not an accident,” Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news conference on Thursday. “This is pure negligence, And I suggest to you that at the core of the negligence is the abuse of drugs.”

Authorities said the Rondons went to the party with the toddler and two other children, ages 6 and 8 years old.

Judd said the husband and wife each thought the other had brought the baby in after they got home at about 3 a.m. on July 5.

At about 11 a.m., that morning, after realizing the baby had not been in her room, the husband told deputies he found the baby unresponsive, still strapped in the car seat, Judd said.

The couple rushed her to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center. Despite all efforts, she could not be revived and was declared dead. At 2:42 p.m., authorities say, her internal body temperature was 104.4. Hospital staff then notified law enforcement.

Authorities said the husband tested positive for meth, marijuana and alcohol. The wife tested positive for marijuana and alcohol.

The surviving children have been placed placed with relatives, the sheriff’s office said.

Judd said Joel Rondon has a criminal history, and in February, was arrested for carrying a concealed firearm, possession of meth, possession of paraphernalia.

Judd said the Rondons have expressed remorse at the child’s death. “I think the real remorse will be tonight when they’re sitting in the county jail, in an air-conditioned environment, by themselves, and thinking ‘It’s nice and cool here, when my baby baked to death because of my negligence and use of drugs,” Judd said.