A former caregiver pleaded guilty Friday to neglect charges for leaving three severely disabled men locked in a car outside a diner while he ate lunch.
"I took care of them like my children," he said. "It was a legitimate, simple mistake that's been blown up completely."
He said he left the men outside because they don't like crowds.
Fleming pleaded guilty to three counts of neglecting vulnerable adults. The deal limits his potential incarceration to no more than 18 months instead of the 15 years he could otherwise face.
Frederick County Circuit Judge Theresa Adams said sentencing would be on June 2 or 3.
Assistant State's Attorney Colleen K. Swanson also asked the judge to order a psychological evaluation for Fleming and to bar him from contact with the victims.
He was arrested by police who were called to the Mountain View Diner in Frederick at about 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 20, by concerned patrons. The customers told police that the victims, ages 48 to 52, had been in the car for about an hour with outside temperatures approaching 75 degrees. The only ventilation was through the driver's window, which was about one-quarter open, Swanson said.
She said two of the men were blind, one had Down syndrome and all were nonverbal. Police reported that the men were sweating profusely. One appeared to be doubled over in distress and another was banging his head repeatedly on a window, Swanson said.
She said Fleming didn't immediately respond when police entered the diner and called his name. After they went back outside, Fleming followed and said he didn't understand why there was a problem.
Fleming told police, "It's not a big deal," Swanson said. She said he told police he had left the men alone for only 30 minutes, Swanson said.
Fleming was fired Sept. 22 by MedSource Community Services, which operates 12 homes for the developmentally disabled in Frederick County. He shared live-in caretaker duties for the three men with another MedSource worker, Swanson said.
At the court hearing, Fleming spoke only to answer yes and no questions. Afterward, he told The Associated Press that he had taken care of the men for eight years and did not deserve condemnation.
"You can't do that job for a day without having a good heart," Fleming said. "I'm living a nightmare for being a good person."
He said he knew he wasn't supposed to leave the men unattended, but that their behavior in the car -- rocking and head-banging -- was normal.
"I knew they were all OK," Fleming said.
He said publicity about the case has prevented him from getting another job.
"It's been a terrible ordeal," Fleming said.