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Leaving child unattended in car unwise, illegal say police, prosecutors

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on March 29, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
March 29, 2012 3:02 pm

If you’ve ever been tempted to leave your child in a car while you just run into a business or a friend’s home for quick errand, you could find yourself defending yourself in court.

Both state statutes and local ordinances penalize drivers who leave children unattended in a vehicle, say police and prosecutors.

A Puyallup-area mother this week learned a difficult lesson about what can go wrong when she left her 16-month-old daughter in a car seat in an idling car while she dropped off her older daughter at daycare.

The woman said her daughter, who suffers from a serious medical condition, was asleep and she didn’t want to wake her.

A thief took advantage of her brief absence speeding away in the car with her younger child still in the car’s back seat.

Pierce County sheriff’s deputies found the car abandoned about five blocks away a few minutes after her distress call to 911. The child, still asleep, was unharmed.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer said detectives are still preparing a report of the incident. When that report is complete, it will go to the Pierce County prosecutor’s office for scrutiny.

“I’m not saying that there will be any charges filed,” he said. “That’s the prosecutor’s decision.”

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said a state law specifically prohibits leaving a child under 16 unattended in a running vehicle. The woman’s Ford Focus was unlocked with the keys in the ignition and the engine idling.

Lindquist said he’s not seen the reports on the case, so he couldn’t say whether any charges will be filed.

The law defines the offense as a misdemeanor, a more minor crime, that would be handled in district court.

“It’s basically a citation,” said Troyer.

Tacoma city ordinances are even more strict. Those laws forbid drivers from leaving children under six unattended in a vehicle on a public roadway under any circumstances.

Tacoma police spokesman Mark Fulghum said that offense is likewise a misdemeanor that would be handled in Tacoma Municipal Court. That ordinance requires a mandatory court appearance.

Other cities may also have specific ordinances that deal with leaving children in cars.

In addition to the specific laws dealing with leaving children in vehicles, other laws, such as those prohibiting reckless endangerment or more serious crimes, may apply if a driver’s negligence results in harm or potential harm to the child, said law enforcement officials.

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