A South Jersey man charged in the death of a toddler left inside a sweltering minivan last month at the Lindenwold PATCO Station told authorities he suffers from memory loss and forgot the child was in the vehicle.
Shelton Shambry, 60, of Lindenwold, was charged Monday with fourth-degree abuse and neglect for allegedly leaving the girl strapped in a car seat for hours inside a Dodge Caravan at the busy commuter station.
Authorities say the 22-month-old girl, identified by May Funeral Home as Mallani Robertson-Lawrence, had been inside the van for nine hours when she was found Aug. 16. The toddler was in the vehicle’s third row in her car seat. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The death was ruled accidental, authorities said.
New details about the incident were revealed in the complaint summons and affidavit of probable cause obtained Tuesday by The Inquirer under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act.
In a statement to investigators, Shambry said he placed the girl in the vehicle in her car seat that day around 6:30 a.m. and left with a female family member who was the child‘s guardian.
Shambry said he normally dropped the toddler off at day care before taking the family member to work, but didn’t follow that routine that day. After dropping his relative off at work, Shambry said, he returned home shortly before 7 a.m. The girl was still in the van, he said.
Shambry said he slept until about 11:30 a.m., when he woke up for work and drove to the Lindenwold station, locked the van, and boarded the train, the statement said. The girl was still in the van, its windows rolled up, the statement said.
”He locked the car, leaving MRL [Mallani] in the vehicle,” his statement said. “Shambry said he suffers from memory loss due to an injury at work.”
The girl was discovered missing that afternoon when family members went to the day-care center to pick her up, the statement said. Employees said the girl had not been there that day.
When contacted by relatives, Shambry told them he thought he had left the girl at the day center, according to the statement. He advised relatives to check his vehicle.
Police were dispatched in a response to a 911 call from the station parking lot. A passenger-side window had been smashed and what “they believed to be relatives” were standing near the van, according to the affidavit.
During the frantic call, a woman urged a Camden County dispatcher to send help quickly. She said the child was turning blue and black.
After asking the woman if she could get the baby out of the vehicle, the dispatcher told her to break a window. The woman said someone at the scene had a bat.
“But I don’t want to bust the window,” she said. “But, bust the window?”
Said the dispatcher: “Listen, if you are saying the baby is turning blue and it’s been in there since 9 a.m., we don’t care about the window.”