VISALIA, Calif. — A toddler died after being left alone for nearly three hours inside a vehicle on a scorching hot summer day while her mother tended to marijuana plants, police said Friday.
Jessica Campos, 3, was exposed to extreme temperatures on Thursday while her mother, Eustajia Dominguez Mojica, 28, left her unattended in the car, Visalia police Sgt. Mike Verissimo said. At the time, the outdoor temperature in San Joaquin Valley was at least 100 degrees.
Mojica, who faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment, told detectives she left her daughter in the car while tending to a marijuana grow and processing the plants, Verissimo said.
Jessica became the 64th child to die since 1990 in California after being left in a hot car, according to KidsAndCars.org, which tracks the tragic incidents.
“Hot car deaths continue to happen because nobody believes this could happen to them,” the organization said in a statement sent after Jessica’s death. “Please help us raise awareness about these predictable and preventable tragedies.”
The temperature inside a vehicle can jump 50 degrees in an hour, making even moderate daytime temperatures deadly.
Mojica was being held on $75,000 bail and is expected in court on Monday where her bail amount could be raised.
Jessica was found around 5:45 p.m. Thursday. An officer was on an unrelated call across the street was on the scene “within seconds,” Verissimo said. The patrol officer took over CPR from family members who were trying to revive the child.
Violent crimes detectives took over the investigation.
“Based on statements obtained by detectives, it is believed that Jessica was left in the vehicle for two-and-a-half-to-three hours prior to being discovered,” Verissimo said.
It’s unknown if any windows were left down or if the car’s air conditioning was running. Child safety advocates say that children should never be left unattended inside a car even if the windows are down and the air conditioning is on.
Visalia police Narcotics and the Special Enforcement units were called to investigate the marijuana grow. About 70 mature marijuana plants, 80 immature marijuana plants, and roughly 475 pounds of processed marijuana were found at the home, Verissimo said.
Four children — a 15- and 11-year-old and two 9-month-old babies — were found inside the home. The children were turned over to Child Welfare Services, Verissimo said.
Four other adults were at the home when police arrived and were booked on suspicion of child endangerment.
Drug charges related to the marijuana grow are being recommended to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office against all the suspects, Verissimo said.
Public safety officials also urge community members who see a child alone in a vehicle to immediately call 911 or the local emergency number.
According to data collected by KidsAndCars.org, over 1,000 children have died from heatstroke in hot cars since 1990. The year 2018 had the most child hot car deaths with 54 children killed.
California Office of Emergency Services suggests the following precautions to prevent a heatstroke tragedy from occurring:
- Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle — even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on.
- Make a habit of looking in the vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and walking away.
- Ask the childcare provider to call if the child doesn’t show up within the timeframe expected.
- Do things that serve as a reminder that a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a phone, purse or wallet in the back seat with the child, or writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat.
- Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area. Store keys out of a child’s reach. Keep empty cars locked.
Sheyanne Romero covers Tulare County public safety, local government and business for the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @sheyanne_VTD.