Sheriff raises question about firefighter charged in son's hot car death

Friday's tragic death of a toddler is creating reaction throughout the area.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WTSP) – Investigators say a Palm Harbor man charged in the death of his 23-month-old son was not under the influence of alcohol when his child died. 41-year-old Troy Whitaker was charged with Aggravated Manslaughter on Friday after telling deputies that he left his son, Lawson, in a car for eight hours.

Whitaker told investigators that he thought he had dropped Lawson off at daycare that morning before he went home. He said he then went to a grocery store later in the day and noticed his son unresponsive in the backseat upon returning home. That’s when Whitaker -- a fireman with the Hillsborough County Fire Department -- called 911 and performed CPR on his son.

“Parents don’t just get passes for neglecting their kids,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, adding that he carefully considered the facts of the case as well as the law before deciding to charge Whitaker.

“When you look at Florida law, what it says is: If you commit child neglect and it results in a death, then it’s aggravated manslaughter. The charge is based upon the facts and the evidence -- if it so fits -- and, in my view, was the right decision to make and the charges should have been brought.”

“I don’t make decisions based on what the reaction is going to be, I make a decision based on what I think is the right thing under the circumstances,” added Gualtieri. “You don’t make decisions based on sympathy. I have tremendous amount of sympathy for Troy Whitaker, I would never want to be in his situation and I just feel for him in the situation that he’s in, but that doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be accountable.”

And while the Sheriff said investigators were continuing to gather evidence and are working to corroborate Whitaker’s account of what happened, he said some details just don’t add up.

“There are some things there that, quite frankly, don’t make sense to me,” he said. “He goes over to Publix with the deceased baby in his back seat, gets to Publix and goes inside and shops for about 40 minutes, comes out of Publix and puts the bags on the front seat where he’s looking straight back at where the kid would be, says he doesn’t see the kid, goes home, opens the exact same door up to take the groceries out where he just put them in and now he says he sees the kid. So…there are some questions.”


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