Howell, NJ Kohl’s, Sara Mazzone (inset)
Thirty-year-old Sara Mazzone recently went to the Howell, New Jersey Kohl’s to buy a few t-shirts, but her shopping trip would go much differently than planned. Her day took a turn in the parking lot, where an ex-cop heard her screams as she started to panic. That’s when he grabbed his sledgehammer and headed her way.
“I started to panic,” Mazzone recalled. As she began to cry out, she caught the attention of Steve Eckel, a former New Jersey cop.
“She said, ‘Oh my God,’ so … I turned to see what ‘Oh my God’ was,” Eckel said. What it was would have the 53-year-old former cop running back to his car in his flip-flops, grabbing his sledgehammer, and heading back in Mazzone’s direction.
As Mazzone was walking towards the store that hot summer Monday afternoon, she heard faint crying. She followed the sound in the parking lot and came upon a four-month-old baby girl strapped into a car seat, fully clothed, partially under a blanket, in a locked car with the windows rolled up tight, ABC7 reports. Luckily, both Mazzone and Eckel were in the right place at the right time that day.
As Mazzone noticed the baby was bright red and “breathing quickly, hyperventilating, and clearly in distress,” she began to panic, knowing time was running out. That’s when she caught Eckel’s attention. “I said, ‘There’s a baby locked in the car, we need to get help right away,'” Mazzone said.
Eckel grabbed his sledgehammer and took action.
Eckel grabbed his sledgehammer and took action.
“It was screaming, hands were out sweating,” Eckel said. “And then I remembered I had a sledgehammer. I bashed the window.”
Finally able to remove the child from the car, the two good Samaritans “took all of her clothes off and cooled her down,” Mazzone explained. They then took the baby into an air conditioned store, called the police, and waited for authorities to arrive.
Steve Eckel's with the infant he helped rescue (Source: Facebook)
Steve Eckel’s with the infant he helped rescue (Source: Facebook)
After police responded, Karen Gruen, the infant’s 33-year-old mother, finally emerged from the store, where she had been inside for 40 minutes, as revealed by surveillance cameras. News 12 New Jersey reports that police were still investigating the incident when the mother came out and started to panic when she saw that the window was broken. “She walked up and the cops didn’t say anything, and all of a sudden said, ‘Where’s my baby?'” Eckel recalled.
Gruen was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child, and her husband was called. The child was determined to be okay after Howell First Aid was called to check on her at the scene, and the father took their baby back to their Lakewood home.
According to News 12 New Jersey Meteorologist Dave Curren, temperatures in Howell reached 91 degrees Monday, and after 30 minutes, temperatures inside a locked car typically reach 124 degrees. So, it is without a doubt, these two heroes saved that little girl’s life.
Leaving a child inside a car puts them at risk for a heat stroke, and although most realize this is common sense by now, child vehicular heat stroke deaths are on the rise in the US this year. There is never a reason to leave your child unattended in a car. Unfortunately, it continues to happen far too often, so we need to stay alert, keeping our eyes and ears open, ready to protect innocent life when needed as these two did.

Thanks to two people who weren’t so self-centered that they didn’t realize what was happening around them, this infant was saved from the near-fatal and selfish actions of her own mother. Kudos to this window-bashing twosome. As for the mother, hopefully, she learned her lesson because, the next time, her baby might not be so lucky to have two angels find her before death does. I personally think this is one mom who should spend some alone time in a hot car just to ensure she never forgets how irresponsible she was the day she risked her daughter’s life for alone time in a department store.


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