HOWELL — A Lakewood teacher who, police say, left her infant in a hot car covered with a blanket outside a shopping center has entered a pre-trial intervention program and will avoid jail time.

Karen Gruen, 33, of Lakewood was charged with endangering the welfare of a child after two good Samaritans pulled the the screaming baby out of a locked car parked at the Kohl’s on Route 9 last August.

Steve Eckel
Steve Eckel is one of two 'Good Smaritans' who broke into a hot car to rescue a 4-month-old baby. (Credit: Facebook)

Police said the baby was left in the locked car for about 40 minutes. Temperatures outside that day were in the 80s. The windows were rolled up and the engine was off.

"The baby appeared to be in a great deal of distress — screaming, crying, bright red and sweating profusely," according to Steve Eckel, one of two people who used a sledgehammer to shatter a wind and free the child.

The Asbury Park Press reported that Gruen, a speech therapist at Oak Street Elementary School, was allowed to enter the court diversionary program. Provided she maintains a clean record and successfully completes 100 hours of community service, it will allow her to avoid having a criminal record.

Her lawyer, Steven Secare, told the newspaper that Gruen was dealing with "family and employment pressures" and forgot about the baby.

Gruen has been teaching since the incident, her lawyer told the newspaper.

Eckel, a school security guard from Jackson, and Red Bank Regional HIgh School teacher Sara Mazzone of Howell broke the window of Gruen's car with a sledgehammer and ran her into the air conditioned store.

“I knew immediately — we had to get her out,” Mazzone told New Jersey 101.5's Jeff Deminski & Bill Doyle during a conversation on their show.

"They didn’t hesitate," Jeff Deminski wrote at the time. "They didn’t worry about how it would look. They grabbed a sledgehammer, broke through the front window and rescued the child. Those two strangers — to each other and to the child — were heroes, and may be the reason the baby’s alive today."

But fellow New Jersey 101.5 host Dennis Malloy argued arresting the mother for leaving a baby in a hot car was too heavy-handed.

"It makes some of us in society feel that at least justice was done for that child. It reassures us how much better we are as parents, that we would never have done any such horrible thing to our children. In today’s society, for every bad act — intentional or by mistake — there must be a villain who must be punished," Malloy wrote. "But what if it was your wife, sister, best friend or daughter? 'I’d feel the same way,' some people said. Bulls**t!"



Contact reporter Dan Alexander at

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