DETROIT — Barefoot and wearing pajamas, the boy was too small to even see over the steering wheel of the car. But that didn’t stop him. The 7-year-old boy from rural Sheridan Township in Mecosta County, Mich., near Big Rapids, reportedly stood up on the floorboard of his stepfather’s red Pontiac Sunfire, gripping the wheel with his hands and accelerating with one foot on the gas pedal.
The boy’s jaw-dropping 20-mile ride, which ended when police got him to stop by boxing him in near the bridge over the Pigeon River outside Caseville, Mich., was all motivated by one thing, according to police.
“He was crying and just kept saying he wanted to go to his dad’s,” Caseville Police Chief Jamie Learman said. “That was pretty much it: He just wanted to go to his dad’s.”
Now police in Caseville and with the Huron County Sheriff’s Office who stopped him are trying to figure out how the boy was able to get so far on his own, and who taught him how to drive. They also are awaiting word from the Department of Human Services and the Huron County Prosecutor’s Office whether any charges might be filed.
Police would not release the names of the boy nor his parents. They revealed only that the boy and his mother live in western Sheridan Township, about 100 miles northeast of Detroit in the Thumb. The boy lives with his mother and stepfather. The boy’s biological father lives about 12 miles away in the Filion area. The boy took his stepfather’s red Pontiac Sunfire for the trip. The stepfather was not home at the time.
According to police, the boy’s mother, who works a night shift and was sleeping, had told the child earlier to wake her at 10 a.m. Monday. She didn’t realize the child had left the home until police called.
“Fifteen, 14, but never 7,” Learman said, recalling ages of other youngsters he had seen driving.
“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,” Learman said.
“I’m just assuming a 7-year-old didn’t follow the traffic laws.”
Aaron Scott, 16, of Rochester, Mich., said Tuesday that he spotted the boy behind the wheel in downtown Caseville shortly after 10 a.m. Monday morning and called 911. He said the 7-year-old appeared to be standing on the floor mats instead of sitting, and could barely see over the steering wheel.
But he knew how to use the gas and brakes, Scott said: “I didn’t really believe what I was seeing.”
Scott followed the boy through the downtown, where he said the boy swerved close to curbs as pedestrians walked in the area. When the 7-year-old got out of town into a rural area, his car reached speeds of 65 to 70 mph, Scott said. Police also confirmed the speeds.
An earlier 911 caller, identified by a dispatcher during a recording of the call only as “Kurt,” sounded perplexed.
“Uh, yes, I’m on Kinde Road outside of Caseville, and believe it or not, I just passed about a 5-, 6-year-old kid flying down the road with a red Pontiac Sunbird,” Kurt told the dispatcher as he followed the boy.
At one point, Kurt tells the dispatcher: “He’s going to go in a ditch pretty quick. ... He’s going pretty fast.”
When the boy appeared to be stopping, Kurt told the dispatcher that he thought he might be able to get him out of the car. The dispatcher told him that was OK, as long as it posed no danger to him, the boy or others.
As Kurt tried to approach, the 7-year-old put the car in reverse and pulled off down another road, Griggs Road.
“He’s flying down that road now,” Kurt told the dispatcher.
After sharing some more details and information, Kurt told the dispatcher: “I thought it was quite strange when he went past me.”
Huron County Sheriff’s Deputy Randy Britt and Learman tailed the 7-year-old, and attempted to get him to stop.
“I was hoping he wasn’t going to crash,” Learman said.
Dashboard video from Britt’s car shows the 7-year-old went off the road onto the shoulder a few times before the boy stopped the vehicle outside the city of Caseville.
“I slowed down, he slowed down and eventually stopped,” Learman said. 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 the boy down by talking to him through the window. Eventually, the boy was able to unlock the car and Britt quickly put it in park.
Police then called his mother.
“She was frantic,” Huron County Sheriff Kelly Hanson said. “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. Hanson said he will ask Huron County Prosecutor Timothy Rutkowski to review the case and determine whether charges should be filed.
“Throwing the book at a 7-year-old driver isn’t our intent. It’s, ‘Why did this occur?’ ” Hanson said.