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Father Arrested Following Death Of 3-Year-Old Girl Pulled From Car Fire In Queens

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Charges are pending against the father of a little girl who died after she was pulled from a burning car Sunday in Queens.

What Martin Pereira is accused of doing to his sweet faced 3-year-old daughter Zoey Pereira is unfathomable.

He allegedly trapped her in the back seat of a car and set it on fire.

Police say the rear doors were chained shut.

"Horrible. I didn't even sleep last night because I was just thinking about that little baby. It was horrible," said witness Jenny Chalmers.

Shortly before the fire Sunday night, police say Zoey's mother called police to report a custody dispute with Pereira. The parents were engaged to be married, but broke up after five years together. Police say the former couple has a history of domestic incidents, both accusing each other of abusing their daughter. Pereira recently filed a complaint against Zoey's mother with the Administration for Children's Services.

How the toddler's life ended sickens so many who witnessed the horror, CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported. Some wonder if it was an accident, or if intentional, did Pereira almost change his mind.

"He was trying to open the back door as if he was trying to take someone out," said witness Jenny Chalmers.

"He was on fire. Like, literally, on fire," said witness Lomar Gayle.

"He got away, but he headed straight for the lake," Chalmers said.

Police took Pereira into custody at a nearby pond. They also recovered two fuel canisters in the car, and a propane tank next to it.

Pereira's Valley Stream neighbors can't understand how anyone could take the life of an innocent child - especially a parent.

"To think about what he's doing, and him not really thinking about the end game, what's going to happen after the situation. Doing something to this innocent victim is very disheartening.

No one answered the door at Pereira's home. He suffered non-life threatening burns and is under arrest at Weill Cornell burn center where police are waiting to speak with him.

CBS2's Hazel Sanchez spoke with Zoey's mother by phone. She was very distraught, and CBS2 is respecting her request for privacy.


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