A man broke a car windshield to rescue a young infant knowingly left in the car by her mother in Howell, New Jersey. Fifty-three-year-old retired police officer Steven Eckel saved the 4-month-old baby’s life.
Howell Township police responded to a call about the infant. Sergeant Christian Antunez said the mother, Karen Gruen, went into a Kohl’s store to shop, leaving her infant locked inside the car on an almost 90-degree day. No windows were left down, and the engine was not left running.
Sarah Mazzone was also walking through the store parking lot when Eckel made his heroic rescue. They heard the infant crying in the back seat of her mother’s car.
Although the pair were total strangers, Mazzone helped Eckel try to find patrons who had tire irons in their car, but they had no luck. Then, Eckel remembered the sledgehammer he used for driving tent stakes. He ran to his vehicle, grabbed it, and broke the front window of the car so he could rescue the infant.
“It was a little baby wrapped up in a woolen blanket — crying, sweating, eyes rolling in the back of her head… [it was] well over 120 degrees, just think of what could have happened. [The baby] was sweating, crying, eyes rolling back… I ran around to the other side, caught the edge here, and it just shattered.”
Reports say that the baby was flushed and pouring sweat but otherwise okay, so Eckels made his rescue just in time. The rescue and the close call struck a chord with the retired officer.
“I almost started to cry, I got really emotional at that point.”
Once he had the infant safely out of the car, Eckel removed her sweat-soaked clothes. Mazzone stayed with Eckel to help, and they took the baby inside the store where it was cool. Mazzone grabbed a shirt and moistened it so they could soothe the infant with cool water and manage the baby’s body temperature.
Antunez said that after the police arrived on the scene, paramedics administered medical treatment to the infant. He described the young baby’s condition when they arrived.
“The baby appeared to be in a great deal of distress — screaming, crying, bright red and sweating profusely. [She] was fully clothed with a blanket partially covering her.”
According to MSN News, authorities released the baby into her father’s care. He determined she did not need additional treatment from the medical team.
Andrew Kudrick, the chief of police, commended Eckel and Mazzone for the rescue.
“I recognize the civilians who took immediate action to rescue this child, for they truly saved a life.”
According to CBS New York, Gruen stayed inside the store for over half an hour. She panicked when she and two other children reached the car and saw her baby gone and the window shattered.
Police said the mother was inside the store for about 40 minutes. When she came back outside with two other children and saw the broken window and empty car seat, she started to panic. She asked where the infant was.
Eckel recalled the conversation between her and one of the police officers.
“And the cop said, ‘You’re the mother? Have a seat…’ She knew she left the baby in the car. I felt like crying. After something like this happens, you act on it and think about it later.”
Authorities charged Gruen with child endangerment and arrested the mother. She has since been released and awaits her trial.
Eckel offered thoughts on the mother’s position.
“She should plead guilty and get probation and realize you just can’t do this. That baby would have been dead. If we didn’t do what we did, that mom would have driven home not knowing if the baby was sleeping or dead.”
No one from the family has responded to requests for comment.
[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]