Florida babysitter arrested over 10-month-old baby girl's hot car death, authorities say

The hot car death happened amid a relentless heat wave.

ByMorgan Winsor ABCNews logo
Friday, July 21, 2023
What everybody should know to help prevent hot car deaths this summer
During the summertime, the temperature inside a car can skyrocket to 125 degrees in a matter of minutes, and most of the increase occurs in the first 10 minutes.

MACCLENNY, Fla. -- A Florida babysitter is facing a manslaughter charge over the death of an infant who was accidentally left in a car for hours amid scorching temperatures, authorities said.

Rhonda Jewell, 46, picked up a 10-month-old baby girl from the mother's residence in Macclenny, just west of Jacksonville, on Wednesday morning at approximately 8 a.m. ET, according to the Baker County Sheriff's Office. Jewell then drove to another residence in Macclenny where she was going to babysit other children as well. When she arrived, she went inside the home, leaving the infant in the car, the sheriff's office said.

It wasn't until the baby's mother arrived in the afternoon at around 1 p.m. ET to pick up her child that Jewell realized she had left the infant in the car, the sheriff's office said. Someone called 911 and first responders rushed to the scene. The baby was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead, according to the sheriff's office.

Jewell was subsequently arrested for aggravated manslaughter of a child and taken to the Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny. She had an initial court appearance on Thursday morning and the judge set her bond at $25,000 with GPS monitoring upon release, according to the sheriff's office. It was unclear whether Jewell had entered a plea or hired a defense attorney.

The judge also ordered Jewell to have no contact with the victim's family and to turn in her passport to the sheriff's office. A state prosecutor had asked for Jewell to have no bond, but the judge said that wouldn't be fair because it's not a murder charge. Meanwhile, Jewell's family members requested the judge take into account her lifelong ties to Baker County and lack of a criminal history, according to Jacksonville area ABC affiliate WJXX.

"As Sheriff, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the magnitude of the tragedy felt throughout our county yesterday," Baker County Sheriff Scotty Rhoden said in a statement via Facebook on Thursday. "At approximately 1:00 PM, the Baker County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call that no law enforcement office ever wants to receive. As the events after that phone call unfolded, our department had to work a case that was tragic and deserved privacy."

The sheriff's office decided to wait a day before releasing a statement on the incident "due to the nature of the tragedy and respect for the victim's family and our entire community," according to Rhoden, who noted that it's department protocol to post the information on social media upon making an arrest.

"As the Sheriff of a small community, posting the details of this tragedy is very hard for me," he added. "Each of us are given the gift of life every morning we wake up and every evening when we finish our day, we are blessed if our family is safe and healthy. In the blink of an eye, our world can be turned upside down. Please be mindful of this when trying to understand the tragedy that took place in our small town yesterday."

The heat index value -- a measure of how hot it really feels when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature -- soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Jacksonville on Wednesday amid a relentless heat wave that continues to plague a swath of the United States. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for the Jacksonville area, including Macclenny, on Friday, with heat index values expected to reach 115 degrees.