HOWELL, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A 4-month-old baby was left locked inside a sweltering car Monday, in the parking lot of a Howell Township Kohl’s.

She’s OK thanks to the quick-thinking of a former police officer.

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As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported, the good Samaritan said he was in the right place at the right time.

“Well over 120 degrees, just think of what could have happened,” Steve Eckel said.

Eckel was still holding a light pink onsie as he told the story of how he saved the baby who was wearing it.

“I do believe in guardian angels, and I think I’m the one for this child,” Eckel said.

The retired Middlesex County Sherrif’s Department Sergeant said it was his instinct as a father that kicked in when he and another good Samaritan saw the baby locked in a hot car by herself.

“She was sweating, crying, eyes rolling back,” he said.

In flip flops, he raced back to his car after remembering that he had a sledge hammer in his trunk.

“I ran around to the other side, caught the edge here, and it just shattered,” he said.

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The baby was beet red and sweating profusely, but she was alive.

“I almost started to cry, I got really emotional at that point,” he said.

Police said the mother was inside the store for about 40 minutes. When she came back outside and saw the broken window and empty car seat, she started to panic.

“Oh my God, where’s my baby?’ And the cop said, ‘you’re the mother? Have a seat,” Eckel said.

Police arrested 33-year-old Karen Gruen and charged her with endangering the welfare of a child.

“She should plead guilty and get probation and realize you just can’t do this,” Eckel said.

After witnessing so much tragedy in his career Eckel was grateful the story ended with a healthy baby.

There was no answer at the family home in Lakewood, the mother was released from custody and is due in court at a later date.


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