AIKEN - While Christopher Waller stood in an air-conditioned restaurant waiting for his steak and shrimp dinners, his twin boys and toddler sweltered in a locked car.
Now the Bath man faces three felony counts of neglect.
Aiken police found Mr. Waller's children, 5-year-olds Chance and Chase and 17-month-old Blake, crying and drenched with sweat in the restaurant parking lot Thursday afternoon.
Police estimate the three had been in Mr. Waller's 1995 GMC Yukon for at least 20 minutes while their father was inside Kobe Japanese Steak & Seafood House on Pine Log Road in Aiken picking up a $73.78 order of steak, shrimp and rice.
"The vehicle they were in had the windows up, and it was not running," said Sgt. David Turno, a spokesman for Aiken Public Safety. "The kids had no idea where their father was."
The temperature outside was in the mid-80s, but with the humidity it felt closer to 95.
Inside the car it likely felt hotter. According to a study conducted at San Francisco State University, temperatures in a closed vehicle can rise by more than 20 degrees in less than 20 minutes.
Luckily, Adam Truesdale, an off-duty deputy with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, was walking in front of the restaurant with his wife, Tara. Deputy Truesdale had just put the couple's name on the waiting list.
They heard the boys crying and searched the steamy asphalt parking lot. They found the children in the locked SUV and dialed 911.
"When you hear a child screaming for help, you've got to help. " he said.
When the officers arrived, they convinced one of the boys to unlock a door, the police report states, and rushed them to an air-conditioned patrol car.
Mr. Waller emerged from the restaurant about five minutes after officers arrived, explaining that he'd only been inside for five minutes and that he had left the windows rolled down.
However, officers noted that the driver's side window was cracked only half an inch.
David David, Kobe's manager, said a restaurant employee said Mr. Waller waited about 20 minutes for his food and appeared to walk out to the parking lot during that time.
The children were sent home Thursday night with their mother.
Sgt. Turno said investigators with the department's youth services division followed up Friday and arrested the 32-year-old Mr. Waller.
He is charged with three felony counts of unlawful neglect by a legal custodian and was released on a personal recognizance bond.
The department of social services also was notified and will do its own investigation, Sgt. Turno said.
Local pediatricians say children are at greater risk in the heat than adults because of their small size and inability to recognize the signs of being overheated.
"Kids' ability to tolerate the stress of being in the heat is not as good as adults," said Dr. Aaron Hanna, an Augusta pediatrician.
Sgt. Turno said Mr. Waller still would have faced charges even if the temperature hadn't been as high.
"He still violated the law by leaving the kids of that age in that car," Sgt. Turno said. "The heat just compounds the issue - makes it deadly."
Staff writers Rebecca Trela and Josh Gelinas contributed to this article.
Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or firstname.lastname@example.org.