Inmates in Florida stood outside a blue SUV and slipped a straightened wire coat hanger down into the driver-side door.
Wearing their gray-and-white-striped uniforms, they worked on it for several minutes late last week outside a courthouse in New Port Richey, less than 40 miles northwest of Tampa. The men were attempting to break into a couple’s vehicle — to rescue their 1-year-old who had been accidentally locked inside, authorities said.
The child’s mother, Shadow Lantry, posted a video on Facebook showing the moment Thursday when the inmates, who were on a nearby work crew, pried open the door to free her young daughter.
“Yes! Thank God!” Lantry shouted as the door swung open and the horn started to blare. “Thank you guys so much.”
She stopped to pump gas and heard the door lock. Then her 1-year-old started to cry and sweat.
Lantry said in the video that the toddler, Dallas, had started crying, so she asked her partner to take her out to the car.
“He puts her in the car seat and straps her in. He tosses the keys to the front seat,” Lantry explained, adding that when he tried to open the driver-side door, he realized that all the doors were locked. “She was only in there maybe five minutes.”
Studies have shown that cars parked in the shade can reach nearly 100 degrees within an hour and 116 degrees in the sun. The situation can turn dire when a person’s body temperature reaches more than 104 degrees, and they cannot cool down. In such cases, the person can experience heat stroke — becoming dizzy, disoriented and confused, feeling fatigued and falling into a coma, according to the National Institutes of Health. When the condition is not promptly treated, it can lead to death.
Each year, an estimated 38 children die after becoming trapped inside hot vehicles, according to KidsandCars.org. At least 51 children died under such circumstances in 2018, according to the organization.
It was about 60 degrees Thursday in New Port Richey, so Pasco County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Amanda Hunter said the deputies did not have an immediate need to break the windows. That said, there was not a great alternative — Hunter explained that the couple had “little funds” to hire a locksmith.
“A group of inmate trustees on a work crew was nearby, repairing medians in front of the Pasco Sheriff’s Administration and the West Pasco Judicial Center buildings, and several of the inmates advised the Inmate Supervisor, Deputy Richard Stanger, that they could get into the vehicle without breaking the window,” Hunter said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Hunter said that since that avoided putting a financial strain on the parents, “the deputies authorized the inmates to attempt to open the vehicle with a metal coat hanger.”
“Ultimately, inmate David Freyn was able to unlock the vehicle, by using the hanger to push the electronic door lock, while other inmates helped pry the door open,” she said. “The inmate work crew was supervised by multiple deputies during the process and were able to get into the vehicle within minutes without damaging the vehicle. The child was also unharmed in the incident.”
Hunter said the inmates involved in the sanctioned break-in had committed “low-level crimes.” Freyn, the inmate who was able to get into the vehicle, was arrested in October for a probation violation for grand theft and fraud, according to online booking records. He is serving time in Pasco County.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco told ABC affiliate WFTS that it was a unique situation and called for a unique solution.
“There’s only a very small percentage of those criminals out there that want to fight us and want to attack us,” Nocco told the station. “A lot of them, like these individuals, they know they made bad mistakes, bad choices — but they want to do the right thing in life.”