Pierce County detectives suspect a thief who stole a car with a child inside near a Puyallup-area day care Tuesday morning may have been lurking outside hoping parents would leave their cars unattended while dropping off their children.
The thief abandoned the 2010 Ford Focus with a 16-month-old child inside on a side street about a dozen blocks from the child care center. The child was unharmed.
Sheriff’s deputies and police from several local jurisdictions had cast a large dragnet at mid-morning Tuesday after they were alerted about the theft. They set up road blocks and cordoned off the neighborhood in hopes of catching the thief.
The distress call came in at 10:34 a.m. The car and the child were recovered about 10 minutes later.
“We were about to issue an Amber Alert, when we found the car,” said sheriff’s department spokesman Ed Troyer.
Troyer said the child’s 27-year-old mother had left the car unlocked with the keys inside while she dropped another child, 3, at the daycare.
“It took just a minute,” said Troyer. “When she came out, the car was gone.”
Her 16-month-old, who was ill, was asleep in a child seat in the car’s back seat.
Troyer said the thief, who was described as being as a white male in his late teens or early 20s, appeared to have been laying in wait for a parent to leave their car vulnerable while they went inside the daycare. The thief wore jeans, a green coat and camouflage backpack.
Sheriff’s department dogs tracked the thief’s trail from the car to a bush nearby where he apparently waited for a ride. Neighbors said they saw him making a cellphone call. Shortly thereafter, a red, lowered car appeared and gave him a ride.
The child’s mother was still shocked by the swiftness of the theft, he said.
“It’s a cautionary tale to all parents,” said Troyer. “Don’t leave your kids and your keys in the car even for a minute.”
Sheriff’s department technicians were processing the stolen car Tuesday for fingerprints or other clues to help them catch the thief.
The child care facility is the Kindercare Learning Center at 10221 152nd St. E.
Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the car thief. The Crime Stoppers of Pierce County’s phone number is 1-800-222-TIPS.
Troyer said that the thief was probably a professional who has stolen other cars in the area.