EDINBURG — A woman was charged with manslaughter Thursday in connection with the death of her 18-month-old daughter.
Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputies arrested Ana M. Gonzalez, 35, more than two weeks after Barbara A. Zepeda was found unresponsive June 11 inside a vehicle near Palmview.
Deputies initially waited for the results of several forensic examinations to return before proceeding with criminal charges, officials said.
They filed manslaughter charges when investigators realized it took Gonzalez two hours to notice Barbara was missing, Justice of the Peace Bobby Contreras said at Gonzalez’s arraignment Thursday morning.
Barbara was left in a vehicle outside a home in the 4600 block of Western Road north of Palmview about 5:30 p.m. and was not found until 7:30 p.m., deputies said. She died later that day at Mission Regional Medical Center.
The temperature inside cars can rise 20 degrees higher than the outside temperature in just 20 minutes and 45 degrees higher within an hour during hot days, according to the Safe Kids Never Leave Your Child in a Car Texas Task Force.
Hospital staff reported the body temperature of Barbara was at 108 degrees upon admission, Sheriff Lupe Treviño said.
“She was just completely oblivious to the whereabouts of the child,” he said about Gonzalez, “and we believe that action was extremely reckless on her part.”
A pathologist ruled hyperthermia, or heat stroke, was the official cause of death — making Barbara the ninth child in the nation to die from being left in an unattended car since the start of the year.
Barbara died June 11. In the 17 days that followed, eight more children died of the same cause, according to data compiled by Jan Null, a meteorology professor at San Francisco State University.
Texas leads the nation in such fatalities, the task force reported. Last year, 13 of the 49 deaths nationwide happened in the state.
Treviño relaunched a campaign in response to a recent spate of child abuse cases and deaths. A 45-minute public service announcement will run on three different local channels.
“We need to make them aware of the dangers that can cause a child’s death, which can be prevented,” he said. “I feel concerned and obligated as an elected leader of this county.
“We need to watch these children.”
On Thursday, Mission police filed capital murder charges against a man in connection with the beating death of his 5-year-old stepson, while an Edinburg father faced charges of injury to a child Wednesday after he admitted to shaking his 3-month-old daughter. And a toddler died in Brownsville on Monday after he drank gasoline.
As for the hot-car case, Contreras arraigned Gonzalez at the Hidalgo County Detention Center on Thursday. The woman told the judge she never imagined this would happen to her, and Contreras sympathized.
“I know you didn’t mean for this to happen,” he told her as he set a $10,000 bond for the second-degree felony.
Manslaughter charges are filed when a person recklessly causes the death of an individual. It carries a punishment of two to 20 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
Naxiely Lopez covers law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at (956) 683-4434.