SAN JOSE -- As usual, the father parked his car on the street Wednesday morning and went to work. But when he returned early that night, the man discovered a tragedy that can only be described as a parent's worst nightmare.

His 9-month-old son was still strapped into his child seat after being left in the hot car all day. The baby was pronounced dead at the scene.

"The father went to work and just forgot that the infant was in the car," said San Jose Police spokeswoman Sgt. Heather Randol. "It's a tragic situation for that family and the community. I can't imagine what that family is going through."

San Jose Police Department officers were summoned about 7:15 p.m. to the 3700 block of Payne Avenue for a report of an unresponsive infant inside a vehicle. Investigators have not said how many hours the child was in the car.

The preliminary investigation indicates the infant's father accidentally took him to a West San Jose residence where he picks up a truck for his job -- forgetting to drop the child off with a babysitter.

Joe Nijmeh, who lives at the Payne Avenue residence, described the father, who has two other children, as a good man who is grief-stricken.

"He's a very responsible father and just so proud of the baby," Nijmeh said. "It was like a gift from heaven for them. He usually takes the baby to the babysitter and then goes to work. But something went wrong in the communication."

Nijmeh, 63, recently broke his leg and cares for his 94-year-old father. But he also is heartbroken because he had no idea the baby was outside his house.

"I feel terrible because I was inside here all day and the baby was in the car," he said. "But I didn't know."

Homicide detectives were called to the scene and are investigating the case, which is routine procedure whenever a child dies in Santa Clara County. No arrest had been made Thursday, Randol said, but the case is expected to be forwarded to the District Attorney's Office. The child's identity was not released as of Thursday afternoon.

Weather records show that San Jose saw a high of 79 degrees Wednesday. But even at that temperature, the heat in an enclosed vehicle can quickly escalate into triple digits, said Jan Null, who is a certified consulting meteorologist.

"After just a half hour, it would have been 114 degrees in the car," said Null, who also is a lecturer at San Francisco State. "After an hour, the temperature would have been 125 degrees. It just doesn't have to be a real hot day for it to get extremely hot inside a car."

Null, who has extensively researched the issue of heatstroke-related death in vehicles, said there were 44 such juvenile deaths last year nationwide. Since 1998, there have been 606 deaths nationally, including 40 in California, Null added. The most recent death in San Jose came in July, 2001 when a 5-month-old boy died in a vehicle. The father was convicted of involuntarily manslaughter and ordered to perform community service.

Wednesday's incident appears to be the first death in the country this year.

About 52 percent of these fatalities are the result of when a child is simply forgotten in the car by a parent or caregiver -- which experts say can be a commonplace occurrence.

"These tragedies happen because parents are stressed, busy and get out of their routine," said Dr. Adella Garland, medical director of Trauma Services, in a statement. "Every year it happens to parents with the best intentions, to parents at all economic levels and across all ethnicities."

And the problem is much greater than most people realize, Null added.

"But the more awareness that comes from tragedies like this, the more lives that might be saved," Null said.

SAFETY TIPS
Never leave a child alone in a car, even for a minute.
Place something you'll need like a cellphone or handbag in the backseat.
Get in the habit of opening back door just to make sure a child hasn't been left behind.
Keep stuffed animal in child's car seat when unoccupied. Then place it in front passenger seat when child is in safety seat as a visual reminded that the child is in the car.
Make arrangements with day-care center or babysitter to always call if the child has not arrived on a scheduled day.
If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. If they seem hot or sick, get them out or call 911.

Source: www.kidsandcars.org