A clerk at a downtown gas station joked with one of his regulars, asking if he was staying out of trouble. The man laughed and walked to his car parked just outside.
About an hour and a half later, the man was found dead inside the car with his head resting on a sleeping baby still strapped in her car seat.
San Diego police investigators say James Robinson, 29, lived in a La Mesa apartment with his girlfriend. Robinson walked into the store to buy a Red Bull and returned to his car where a two-year old girl was strapped into a car seat.
Clerk Rafael Garcia talked with Robinson around 10 a.m. Monday. The man, who appeared to be a laborer or a construction worker, would often use the gas station's restroom or buy chips according to Garcia.
“He was a good guy. He was happy all the time,” said Garcia.
On Monday, Robinson asked the clerk to come and see his baby. It was the first time employees had heard about a baby or had seen Robinson using a car.
After two trips out of the store to clean the parking lot, Garcia started to wonder if the man, who was sitting in the car's front seat but leaning into the back seat, was okay.
When San Diego police officers were called to the gas station for another issue around 11:30 a.m., Garcia asked that they check inside the car.
Officers knocked on the window and woke up the baby who was asleep in the right rear seat of the car.
"The child woke up. Was conscious and happy. Didn't seem to know what's going on," said witness Brad McCurdy.
Officers tried to move Robinson and found him to be unresponsive.
The county's medical examiner removed the body from the car. There doesn't appear to be any indication of any trauma or any evidence of foul play according to investigators. They are investigating the possibility of death by natural causes or drug overdose.
“He didn’t show that he was drunk or I don’t know," said Garcia. "If he was, he was hiding. I don’t know.”
The baby, who appears to be a healthy red-headed girl according to McCurdy, was transported to the hospital to be checked. She was handed over to child protective services until her family members can be located.
Without the clerk's urging, officers say the child could have been left alone in the car much longer than she was. "It was very fortunate that [Garcia] noticed and let us know," said Capt. Mark Jones with SDPD.
For several hours, officers were not sure of Robinson's identity. The car did not have a license plate and officers did not have identification of the man or the child.
Officers are now trying to study surveillance video to help determine how the 29-year old man died.