Homicide Charges Expected in Death of Toddler Locked Inside Burning Car

May 7, 2019 Updated: May 7, 2019

Police cited by the New York Post said the death of a 3-year-old girl left in a locked burning car on the streets of New York has been ruled a homicide.

The toddler’s father, 39-year-old Martin Pereira, is in police custody.

The child, Zoey Pereira, suffered fatal burns on Sunday, May 5, when an Audi Quattro stood in flames.

She was taken to hospital and later pronounced dead, the police said, according to The New York Times.

Multiple reports said the doors of the vehicle had been chained shut.

What Happened?

At around 9 p.m. Sunday, officials received a 911 call about a car stopped in the middle of an intersection near JFK airport.

Emergency responders found the car ablaze in the middle of Baisley Boulevard, at the intersection with 155th Street, the Post reported.

Baisley Boulevard and 155th, next to Baisley Pond in Queens, New York. (Screenshot/Googlemaps)

Crews found the windows shut, and saw one gas canister in the street and another on the back seat, according to sources cited by the Post.

According to both the Post and Pix11, sources said that the back doors of the cars were chained shut.

Chains were also found in car, according to an ABC7 report, which said that the role of these chains was “unclear.”

The heat from the fire had melted the handle and released the latch, allowing firefighters to open the door and pull the girl out.

“I heard a boom, like something explode. When I came out, I saw smoke,” Lisa Silvera, 50, a witness, told the NY Daily News.

Baisley Boulevard and 155, Queens, New York. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

Another eyewitness said she saw a man engulfed in flames, running from the scene. The burning man reportedly ran to a nearby pond to put out the fire, before first-responders found him.

“He was on a stretcher, he’s burned,” Silvera told the Post. “He looked white. So burned. With a mask on his face.”

According to the Post, the man sustained second- and third-degree burns and was reportedly in a stable condition the following morning.

‘Should’ve Kept Her and Gone to Jail’

Law enforcement sources said the man and the girl’s mother were engaged in a custody dispute over the girl, according to the New York Daily News. The source said they do not live together and have a history of domestic violence.

The girl’s mother, 36-year-old Cherone Coleman, was cited by the Daily News as saying that she had unsuccessfully fought to deny the father visitation rights.

She told the publication she regrets that she did not refuse Pereira his court-mandated visitation last Saturday, adding that she “should’ve kept her and gone to jail.”

Pereira took the child on Saturday, the day before she died in the burning car.

Coleman told the Daily News that she spoke with Pereira shortly before her daughter was killed. She said Pereira told her: “Do I have your attention now, [expletive]? I got your attention now, [expletive]. You’re never going to see your daughter again.”

No formal charges have been brought against the father of the tragically deceased toddler.

Crime in the United States

Violent crime in the United States has fallen sharply over the past 25 years, according to both the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

The rate of violent crimes fell by 49 percent between 1993 and 2017, according to the FBI’s UCR, which only reflects crimes reported to the police.

The violent crime rate dropped by 74 percent between 1993 and 2017, according to BJS’s CVS, which takes into account both crimes that have been reported to the police and those that have not.

“From 1993 to 2017, the rate of violent victimization declined 74 percent, from 79.8 to 20.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older,” the U.S. Department of Justice stated (pdf).

Both studies are based on data up to and including 2017, the most recent year for which complete figures are available.

The FBI recently released preliminary data for 2018. According to the Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, from January to June 2018, violent crime rates in the United States dropped by 4.3 percent compared to the same six-month period in 2017.

crime rates
Rates of violent crime in the United States in 1993 compared with 2017, according to data from the FBI (L) and BJS (R). (The Epoch Times)

While the overall rate of violent crime has seen a steady downward drop since its peak in the 1990s, there have been several upticks that bucked the trend.

Between 2014 and 2016, the murder rate increased by more than 20 percent, to 5.4 per 100,000 residents, from 4.4, according to an analysis of FBI data. The last two-year period that the rate soared so quickly was between 1966 and 1968.

Property Crime

The property crime rate fell by 50 percent between 1993 and 2017, according to the FBI, and by 69 percent according to BJS.

According to the FBI’s preliminary figures for the first half of 2018, property crime rates in the United States dropped by 7.2 percent compared to the same six-month period in 2017.

As with violent crime, the FBI survey only takes into account crime reported to the police, while the BJS figures include reported and nonreported crime.

Public Perception About Crime

Despite falling long-term trends in both violent crime and property crime, opinion surveys repeatedly show Americans believe that crime is up.

The vast majority of Gallup polls taken since 1993 show (pdf) that over 60 percent of Americans believe there is more crime in the United States on a national scale compared to the previous year.

Pew Research surveys show similar findings. A survey in late 2016 revealed that 57 percent of registered voters said crime in the nation as a whole increased since 2008, despite both FBI and BJS data showing double-digit drops in violent and property crimes.

Perceptions differed on a national versus local level.

Surveys of perceptions of crime levels on a local scale showed that fewer than 50 percent of respondents in every single Gallup survey (pdf) done since 1996 believed that crime in their area had risen compared to the previous year.

Epoch Times reporter Simon Veazey contributed to this article.

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