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Toddler OK after being left in day-care van

The driver, Dimary Almonte, with her boyfriend Jaun Martinez by her side, next to the van the toddler was found in yesterday. The driver, Dimary Almonte, with her boyfriend Jaun Martinez by her side, next to the van the toddler was found in yesterday. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / August 10, 2011

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A Roxbury toddler bound for day care was left inside a locked van for almost two hours yesterday until a passerby noticed the boy and alerted authorities, said police.

The 2-year-old, who was not identified by authorities, was in good condition and was released to a family friend after being examined by paramedics.

After dropping off other children for day care, the driver of the van, Dimary Almonte, 34, of Roxbury, forgot that the toddler was inside, said Almonte’s boyfriend, Juan Martinez.

Almonte returned home to the Lenox Street housing development around 10 a.m. and parked the van, owned and operated by a company called Trans Pro, on Kendall Street near Trotter Court, Martinez said.

“The boy was on the last seat sleeping, and she didn’t see him,’’ Martinez said. “He’s only been getting rides with her for four days, taking him to day care. She is really sad about what happened, but it was a mistake.’’

The passerby, who saw the child sitting inside, called police at 11:40 a.m., and officers used a special tool to unlock the door of the van. The boy was placed inside an ambulance. Almonte showed up soon after the boy was rescued, said Boston police Sergeant Larry Hobson, a patrol supervisor for Area D-4.

Early in the afternoon, Almonte and Martinez walked down Kendall Street, Martinez’s arm around Almonte. Her head slumped on his shoulder, and she cried. The couple turned around and walked back to the van, and Almonte got in and drove away.

“The boy looked to be in good condition,’’ Hobson said. “He was checked out, and they brought him something to eat.’’

Almonte’s shift began after 6 a.m., and she picked up 20 children from 14 addresses and was to make 13 drop-offs.

She ended her route, which covers Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, at 9:15 and called the company’s office to check in.

After the toddler was discovered, company executives were notified.

“We immediately placed [Almonte] on administrative leave without pay pending an internal investigation,’’ said Ardith Wieworka, Trans Pro’s executive director. “In our opinion, this is an egregious breach of Trans Pro policy. All drivers are required to check their vehicle for remaining children. It’s an essential part of the job, and she failed to do that. We talked with her, and she said she made a mistake. That, frankly, is not good enough.’’

Almonte was hired by Trans Pro in 2009, after a background check that included a review of her driving history with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, according to the company. Wieworka said Almonte’s driving record with the company was clean.

A check of Almonte’s driving record yesterday by the Globe found that she was cited twice in 2006, in Dorchester and Dedham, for failure to use a child restraint in a private vehicle. She was also cited in Dorchester in 2009 for illegal operation while driving a Trans Pro vehicle, although details of that infraction were not available yesterday. She was found responsible for an accident in Dorchester in 2009 while in a private vehicle.

Trans Pro contacted the Department of Children and Families and the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care to alert the agencies, as required by law.

“We also talked with the boy’s parent, who is obviously legitimately upset,’’ Wieworka said.

Trans Pro operates about 100 vehicles and transports about 2,200 children daily in the state, Wieworka said.

National campaigns launched in recent years have aimed to eliminate episodes of children being left in sweltering vehicles.

While temperatures in locked cars can be more than 30 degrees higher than outside, the van driven by Almonte was parked under a tree. Outside temperatures were in the mid-70s yesterday.

According to the National Institutes of Health, if the outside temperature is 72 degrees, the temperature inside a vehicle, with the windows up, can exceed 100 degrees in 30 minutes.

According to the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, 49 children died of heat-related conditions in 2010 after being left in vehicles. So far this year, there have been 22 such deaths.

Last week, a Maine woman allegedly left her 6-month-old in a car in which the temperature climbed to 117 degrees while she went shopping. The woman was charged with child endangerment. The baby was treated and released to his father.

In April 2010, a school bus driver in Everett left a 10-year-old in a school bus for six hours. The child survived; the bus driver was fired.

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @globeballou.