N.J. man smashes window to save baby locked in hot car

ASBURY PARK, N.J. — A New Jersey woman was charged with endangering the welfare of a child after leaving her 4-month-old baby in a hot car for nearly 40 minutes, authorities say.

Karen Gruen, 33, of Lakewood left her baby in the back seat of a Nissan Sentra on Monday in the parking lot of a Kohl’s store in Howell, according to Howell Township Police Sgt. Christian Antunez. The car was off, the windows were closed and the outside temperature was in the upper 80s.

Two patrons walking through the parking lot noticed the baby screaming and crying in the back seat of the vehicle just before 1 p.m. Steven Eckel, 53, of Jackson used a sledgehammer to smash the front passenger window and get the baby out of the car. The other woman was Sarah Mazzone, 30, of Howell. The two didn't know each other.

"It was a little baby wrapped up in a woolen blanket — crying, sweating, eyes rolling in the back of her head," Eckel said. He said they asked two passers-by if they had a tire iron in their vehicle, but then remembered he had a sledgehammer from pounding tent stakes into the ground over the weekend.

Eckel said he smashed a window and got the baby out of the car. He stripped the baby out of the sweaty clothes, brought her into the air-conditioning in Kohl's and dabbed her with a wet T-shirt Mazzone gave him, he said.

"The baby appeared to be in a great deal of distress — screaming, crying, bright red and sweating profusely," Antunez said. "The baby was fully clothed with a blanket partially covering her."

Police arrived, and rescue workers treated the baby, Antunez said.

The baby was turned over to the custody of her father, who declined further medical treatment for the child.

"I recognize the civilians who took immediate action to rescue this child, for they truly saved a life," Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick said.

Eckel, a retired officer from the Middlesex County Sheriff's Office, said the temperature of an enclosed car goes up by about 20 degrees every 10 minutes.

"That baby would have been dead," he said. "If we didn't do what we did, that mom would have driven home not knowing if the baby was sleeping or dead."

Eckel said Gruen came out of the store with two other children at about 1:20 p.m. asking where her baby was.

"She knew she left the baby in the car," Eckel said. "I felt like crying. After something like this happens, you act on it and think about it later."


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