Pajama-clad boy, 7, drives 20 miles with police in pursuit

Jun 21 2011 - 5:20pm

DETROIT -- Barefoot and still in pajamas, the 7-year-old boy stood on the side of a Caseville, Mich., road on Monday morning, crying and begging to see his dad.

Police say that as his mother slept, the boy drove his stepfather's red Pontiac Sunfire more than 20 miles from Sheridan Township by himself to try to get there, hitting speeds of 50 mph with police in pursuit.

"I was hoping he wasn't going to crash," Caseville Police Chief Jamie Learman said. "A couple of times he went off the right side, onto the berm in the gravel, and the vehicle was fishtailing a little bit. When that happened, he seemed to be increasing his speeds."

Learman sped up and passed the boy, as Huron County Sheriff's Office Deputy Randy Britt helped box in the car.

"I slowed down, he slowed down and eventually stopped," Learman said about the Sunfire. The boy had trouble pulling over on Kinde Road near Sturm. Then, with the car still running and in gear, he couldn't get the car unlocked. The officers calmed him down through the window enough to tell him how to unlock the car, then Britt put the car in park.

"He was crying and just kept saying he wanted to go to his dad's," Learman said. "That was pretty much it: He just wanted to go to his dad's."

Investigators discovered the boy had left his Sheridan Township home at about 10 a.m., heading for his father's home in Filion. They were alerted by a Rochester man who called 911 after spotting the boy behind the wheel near the Dairy Queen in Caseville, about a half-hour's drive from Filion. The boy's mother, who was sleeping and had left instructions for the boy to wake her at 10 a.m., did not know he was missing until contacted by police.

"She was frantic," Huron County Sheriff Kelly Hanson said. "I think we woke her up because she didn't answer the first time. And when she called back, she was frantic. And when the deputy went down to pick her up and take her to the scene, she was pretty upset."

The mother and boy immediately went to the county's department of human services. The incident is also being reviewed by the Huron County Prosecutor's Office, according to Hanson, who declined to identify the mother or son.

"If any charges are issued, (the prosecutor) is going to want to know things like that: Where did he learn how to drive?" Hanson said, adding he did not know the answer to that question.

In his 11 years as chief of the Caseville Police, Learman said he's never seen someone so young driving.

"Fifteen, 14, but never 7," Learman said. "I'm just glad he didn't get hurt, and no one else got hurt. I can just imagine the stop signs and other things he didn't stop for. I'm just assuming a 7-year-old didn't follow the traffic laws."

(c) 2011, Detroit Free Press.

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