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Mom, boyfriend left disabled girl in vehicle 5 hours before death, Colleton deputies say

Colleton County deputies say this home on Low Country Highway in Ruffin is where a child died Monday, August 5, under suspicious circumstances. (WCIV).jpg
Colleton County deputies say this home on Low Country Highway in Ruffin is where a child died Monday, August 5, under suspicious circumstances after being left alone in a car for five hours. (WCIV)

Surveillance video from the Colleton County residence where a special needs child died Monday shows the girl's mother and her occasional boyfriend left the child alone in a vehicle for five hours before she died, authorities say.

Colleton County Sheriff's Office detectives say the child's mother, Rita Pangalangan, and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Larry King, placed 13-year-old Cristina Pangalangan in a vehicle outside King's Low Country Highway residence around 11 a.m. on August 5.

The child, who detectives said Tuesday was incapable of caring for herself, remained in the vehicle until approximately 4:15 p.m. Monday afternoon, by which point she was dead, the sheriff's office says.

Detectives say Pangalangan and King, who both now are charged with murder, checked on Cristina only twice in the hours leading up to her death.

The first was at 12:15 p.m. more than an hour after initially leaving her in the vehicle, according to detectives.

Investigators said King and Pangalangan didn't come back outside to check on the Cristina for nearly 3 hours after that.

It was then detectives say King and Pangalangan claim they found out the vehicle was locked, trapping Cristina inside.

Detectives say King and Pangalangan decided the solution to this problem was to leave the home, reportedly to get a set of spare keys.

King and Pangalangan were gone for more than an hour while the child remained at the residence alone inside the vehicle, deputies say.

When the pair returned and got Cristina out of the vehicle around 4:15 p.m., deputies say they called 9-1-1 to report she wasn't breathing.

Paramedics who arrived at the scene attempted to revive her, but say Cristina was already "beyond help," Colleton County Fire-Rescue Chief Barry McRoy said Tuesday.

When asked Wednesday whether or not the vehicle's air conditioning was on at any point while Cristina was left alone inside, a sheriff's office spokesperson said they were unable to release that information, citing an ongoing investigation.

Research by vehicle safety organizations has shown temperatures inside vehicles during hot weather can rise between 40 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit above the ambient temperature after only an hour.

Nearby weather gauges recorded temperature readings of 88 and 91 degrees Monday afternoon around the time of the girl's death. The temperature inside a vehicle without air conditioning could've reached 130-135 degrees under those circumstances.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prolonged exposure to extreme high temperatures in such a scenario could lead to the body's core temperature rising to dangerous levels, leading to potential heatstroke, organ damage or even death.

An autopsy to determine Cristina Pangalangan's cause of death was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey released her name, but did not reveal a cause of death.

King and Pangalangan appeared in bond court Tuesday afternoon in Colleton County, but magistrates are unable to set bail amounts on murder charges.

The pair will remain in jail at least until the date of their formal arraignment sometime in the next 30 days, at which time a circuit judge can consider a bond amount.

Rita Pangalangan, a teacher in the Colleton County School District, has been placed on paid administrative leave while the criminal investigation of her is ongoing.

Cristina attended Colleton County schools. District officials released the following statement Wednesday regarding her death:

"All of us in the Colleton County School District are deeply saddened by the death of Cristina Pangalangan, an eighth-grade student at Colleton County Middle School. Cristina truly enjoyed spending time with her classmates and loved to get attention. She had a smile for all of the adults at school that worked with her, and her teachers described her as a very motivated student. She will be dearly missed by all who knew her."

The school district say it has deployed a crisis response teams to offer counseling and support to any staff and students who need it as a result of the tragedy.

The Colleton County Sheriff's Office and the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office are investigating the incident. The agencies have refused to release further information about the incident, citing an ongoing investigation.