A loving father inadvertently leaves his toddler son in a pickup truck during a typically scorching Florida summer's day. The child dies.
His father will undoubtedly face a lifetime of questions about what some may call an incomprehensible act of inattention and carelessness. He may be judged by his family and ultimately by his own conscience.
But should he be judged in a court of law?
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The death Friday of a 23-month-old boy left in a sweltering truck by his father, a Hillsborough County firefighter, and the decision to criminally charge the dad, sets up a potentially divisive court case that will examine whether the father's act rises to a level of actual negligence and not just a tragic accident.
The father, Troy Whitaker, 41, was charged with aggravated manslaughter late Friday in the death of his son, Lawson, after the Pinellas County sheriff said he left the boy in the family's Chevrolet Silverado for about eight hours after dropping off his 5-year-old daughter at school. The boy's body temperature reached 108 degrees.
Whitaker left jail early Saturday on $50,000 bail. When TV reporters asked if he had anything to say, Whitaker said, "Are you kidding me?"
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said there was no evidence the father deliberately left Lawson in the truck.
"This is one of the toughest of all circumstances because of what it involves," Gualtieri said. "It involves a father who left his kid in the car for eight hours with no explanation."
Even so, the sheriff said, in the eyes of the law, the situation amounts to criminal neglect.
But that call was already drawing fire Saturday as friends and neighbors questioned how a loving father and public servant could face prison when he already faces the unfathomable burden of having caused his son's death. A GoFundMe page had been set up late Saturday afternoon to help Whitaker with legal fees and collected nearly $3,000 after just two hours.
"Despite the credibility of being a public servant who gladly risks his life every time the tones go off, the Sheriff ... felt it appropriate to have Troy taken into custody and criminally charged," an introduction on the page said. "Nothing could be a greater reach."
Lawson Whitaker is the 29th child to have died of heat-related causes from being left inside vehicles in 2016, according to the website noheatstroke.org.
Whether a parent or someone else is charged at all in the death of a child left in a hot car is highly variable, even in Florida. Some law enforcement agencies have treated similar cases as tragic accidents that do not warrant charges. In a 2009 report, the Washington Post said 40 percent of all cases lead to no criminal charges.
In July, Florida prosecutors decided against charging a Deltona middle school teacher in the death of her cousin, who she left in the back of a sports utility vehicle. Though prosecutors said in a memorandum that the case "was both tragic and avoidable," they decided against charges because the woman had not acted recklessly.
"Things happen in the care of young children that are unexpected even by experienced parents," the memorandum said.