Father held on $1 million bond in toxic truck case

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A man accused of dousing his 10-year-old son with a harmful chemical and loading his dead daughter in the back of his exterminator truck was held Thursday on $1 million bond and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Jorge Barahona, 53, is charged with aggravated child abuse for critical injuries to his son, Victor, and he is expected to face more charges. The boy was found Monday in the truck parked along Interstate 95; his twin sister’s deteriorated body was later found in the enclosed bed. The father was discovered near the pickup, lying on the ground, unresponsive and doused in gasoline in what he later told police was a futile attempt to kill himself.

“He is not only a flight risk, but also a danger to himself and a danger to the community,” Circuit Judge Ted Booras said.

When Barahona was told to get ready for the hearing, he tried to injure his head and became uncooperative, authorities said. The judge decided he didn’t have to come to the hearing, and the father was later taken to a hospital for observation.

On Monday, a state worker made the harrowing discovery, finding the boy in the front seat of the red pickup alongside the busy interstate, convulsing from seizures, dripping in chemicals so toxic they sickened rescue workers.

Because the truck was too toxic to immediately search, it was hours later before officials found Victor’s twin sister, Nubia, wrapped in plastic bags, wedged between chemical containers in the back, officials said.

It wasn’t until early Thursday morning that officials were able to move the truck from the side of the roadway. The FBI is trying to determine what chemicals are present in it.

Victor is in critical condition, with his burns, mostly below the waist, getting worse and doctors unsure of what chemical was used.

At the bond hearing, prosecutor Aleathea McRoberts complained to the judge that Barahona’s public defender told his client not to speak to police. Public defender James Snowden and the prosecutor declined to speak with reporters after the hearing.

It’s still not clear how Nubia died. An autopsy was completed, officials said, but detectives were reviewing the report and had not yet released details.

The Department of Children and Families began investigating the family last week after Barahona’s 7-year-old granddaughter told an adult the twins were kept locked in the bathroom. The child said Nubia was sometimes kept in the tub all day. An anonymous call to an abuse hotline Feb. 10 reported the twins’ feet and hands were bound with duct tape.

After the call, child protective investigator Andrea Fleary went to the home looking for the twins Friday night, but Carmen Barahona, the suspect’s wife, told them she was separated from her husband and didn’t know where he or the twins were. Officials now believe she was covering for him.

When asked at a hearing Wednesday why Fleary didn’t interview the two other children in the house, the investigator said it was 9 p.m. on a Friday night. The judge was furious with the answer.

The case could be the biggest scandal to hit Florida’s Department of Children and Families since it was reorganized nine years ago. The overhaul came after it was discovered that a 5-year-old foster child, Rilya Wilson, had been missing for over a year before officials noticed, in part because a caseworker filed false reports saying the girl was fine.

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