Couple arrested after leaving toddler in hot car after Fourth of July party, sheriff says

Parents face charges of aggravated manslaughter after testing positive for drugs, alcohol
Posted at 3:53 PM, Jul 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-06 16:20:44-04

LAKELAND, Fla. — A Florida couple has been arrested after they left their 18-month-old daughter in a car overnight after returning home from a drug-filled party, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Thursday.

Jazmine and Joel Rondon, both 33, of Lakeland, are facing charges of aggravated manslaughter.

The couple attended a Fourth of July party with their three children – ages 8, 6 and 18 months old – and didn't return home until about 3 a.m. the next morning, Judd said.

As they began unloading food and other items from the car, Jazmine told Joel to get the toddler out of the car seat while she brought the other two children inside and went to bed, Judd said.

After bringing some food trays inside, Joel went back outside, saw all four doors were closed, assumed Jazmine had already gotten the toddler and went to sleep, Judd said.

Once he woke up at about 10 a.m. and was getting ready for work, Joel asked the 8-year-old, "Where is the baby?" Judd said.

After searching the house for the child, Joel went outside "and there is the baby, still strapped in the child carrier in the car with a heat index (of) 105 degrees on that day," Judd said.

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Calling it a "torturous death," Judd said the couple rushed the child to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, but it was too late. The girl was already dead.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office conducted a death investigation, at which point the parents submitted to drug and alcohol testing.

"Seventeen hours after arriving home from the party, Jazmine tests positive for alcohol and marijuana," Judd said. "Joel tests positive for alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine."

An autopsy determined that the child's cause of death was hyperthermia from being left "harnessed in the baby seat in the back of the car," Judd said.

"They are remorseful that the child's dead … but I think the real remorse will be tonight, when they're sitting in the county jail in an air-conditioned environment by themselves, thinking, 'It's nice and cool here when my baby baked to death because of my negligence and my use of drugs,'" Judd said. "They will and have to be held accountable for such horrible conduct."