After CT car thefts with kids inside, police remind drivers to lock doors

Photo of Tara O'Neill
After two recent incidents in Fairfield and Waterbury, Conn., police are urging drivers to lock their vehicles — even when someone is inside it.

After two recent incidents in Fairfield and Waterbury, Conn., police are urging drivers to lock their vehicles — even when someone is inside it.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

It is illegal for a parent, guardian or person supervising a child to knowingly leave children under the age 12 alone in a motor vehicle for a length of time that creates a risk of harm to the individual’s health or safety, according to state statute.

Two recent incidents — one in Fairfield, another in Waterbury — that police believe are likely connected involved motor vehicle thefts that occurred while there were children in the backseat. In these cases, the victims were 12 years old and a teenager, meaning the law was not broken when they were left alone in the car.

A person who does leave a child under the age of 12 unsupervised in a vehicle or place of public accommodation can be charged with risk of injury to a minor — a felony offense.

The statute indicates that authorities are given some discretion to charge individuals with a less severe misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of the incident. It also provides more strict penalties for anyone leaving a child unattended in a vehicle or place of public accommodation between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., or in a place that serves liquor.

The discretionary aspect of the statute, it states, only applies to motor vehicles and places of public accommodation. The statute indicates that if a child is under the age of 12 and left in another place, such as a residence, by themselves, the parent or guardian will face the more serious risk of injury to a minor charge.

On Monday in Fairfield, police responded to several calls of a theft of an occupied vehicle in front of 16 Handles at 1300 Post Road around 6:30 p.m.. A couple told officers they left their parked vehicle running with a teenager inside to make a purchase at a nearby business when an unknown individual took their car. The individual told the teen to get out before driving off and the teen did so, police said.

Witnesses told investigators that a black vehicle, described by police as a Dodge, was seen in the area at the time of the theft and believed to be involved.

The couple’s vehicle taken in Fairfield was spotted in the Wordin Avenue area of Bridgeport shortly after and authorities followed the driver onto Interstate 95, then onto Route 8 before the driver took Exit 18. Officers lost sight of the vehicle, finding it unoccupied on Caroline Street in Derby later Monday.

Investigators later discovered that the alleged accomplice car was a black Dodge Charger, stolen from Waterbury shortly before 5 p.m. Monday. Waterbury police said the driver told officers she left the Charger running with her daughter, 12, inside when she went to check on her son at a nearby business. The car, and the woman’s daughter, were gone when she returned. The girl was found in the area soon after and told officers she was let out of the vehicle before the alleged thief left the parking lot with it.

The Charger was found in Bridgeport on Tuesday with a misused Connecticut registration late by member of the Bridgeport Regional Auto Theft Task Force. Two juveniles were arrested and charged with possession the stolen car, Fairfield police said.

Police said the two juveniles have not been confirmed to be those in the vehicle during the incident in Fairfield.

Authorities said the Fairfield and Waterbury incidents are linked and continue to be investigated. Police urged drivers to always lock their vehicles — even ones left running with individuals still inside them.

Earlier this year, there were multiple reports of vehicles being stolen with children inside — some of which in violation of the statute. Authorities in these cases did not indicate any charges filed against the individuals who left the children in the vehicles.

In many of those cases, the parent or guardian had left the child in the car temporarily to run into a nearby store — most frequently convenience stores or gas stations.

Last month, a 1-year-old was in a vehicle stolen from a school parking lot in Manchester. The child’s mother, in a frantic call to 911, told the dispatcher she was picking her child up from the school and left the infant in the vehicle because he was sick and sleeping, so she didn’t want to wake him. The child was dropped off on a nearby street and the vehicle later recovered.

On May 19, Manchester police were sent to the Shell gas station on Hartford Road after a vehicle with a 9-year-old child sleeping inside it was taken by an unknown person. The child was reunited with her mother soon after, having woken up just after the theft. The alleged thief let the child out of the vehicle and she walked back to the gas station. The vehicle was recovered nearby.

On May 11, Waterbury police responded to the Shell gas station at 618 West Main St. for a vehicle stolen with an infant in the backseat. The vehicle, with the child asleep in their car seat, was found about a mile away in the Webster Bank parking lot on Highland Avenue.

On May 2, Wolcott police responded to the Cumberland Farms at 1655 Meriden Road for a report of a vehicle stolen with a 5-year-old child asleep in the backseat. An 11-year-old boy was also in the vehicle at the time it was taken, but managed to jump out before the driver took off. The report was called in around 11:30 p.m. By 1:45 a.m. May 3, Police Chief Edward Stephens, involved in a search for the missing girl, found the vehicle in the middle of Knollwood Drive at Split Rock Drive. The child was in the vehicle asleep and unharmed.