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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

TX Tow Truck Driver Tows Car with Sleeping Boy

Here's the most fair and comprehensive story I've found on this. It's from The Dallas Morning News.

By STEVE THOMPSON / The Dallas Morning News
stevethompson@dallasnews.com / The Dallas Morning News
Tanya Eiserer contributed to this report.

Melissa Jio left her 7-year-old son in the car for just a minute as she ran upstairs to her apartment Monday night, she said. He was splayed across the back seat asleep.

As she descended the stairs, she realized her silver four-door Saturn was no longer there.

"My baby is gone! I've lost my baby!" she screamed, thinking a thief had stolen the car with her son in it.

But it wasn't stolen; it had been towed.

A few minutes later – as police were investigating what they thought could be a kidnapping and as Ms. Jio remained in hysterics – another strange thing happened. The tow truck driver returned to the parking lot with the car and the still-sleeping boy, unhooked his load in a hurry and sped away.

Police soon stopped the driver, 23-year-old Fidel Retana Jr., and arrested him on a charge of abandoning/endangering a child without the intent to return. He was booked into the Dallas County Jail on $100,000 bail.

But Tuesday, police officials said they expected to drop the charge.

"It appeared that he did not intend to take the child," Dallas police Sgt. Brenda Nichols said.

The episode began after Ms. Jio and the boy's father, Sergio Zuniga, had been at the hospital with Sergio Jr. on Monday evening to get a deep splinter removed from his finger, they said.

About 11 p.m., as it became clear it would be a long wait, they drove to the apartment at 4599 W. Davis St. to drop off Mr. Zuniga. Mother and son planned to return to the hospital.

Mr. Zuniga said they parked in the fire lane, and Ms. Jio came upstairs for a moment to unlock the door. That's when the car disappeared.

"I'm thinking, 'They've killed my son,' " he said.

They called 911 about 11:17 p.m. and ran toward the apartment complex's gated exit, where someone told them they saw a tow truck leaving with a car. A police officer arrived to find Ms. Jio on her hands and knees, crying and vomiting.

Then, at 11:22 p.m., as the parents and a police officer gathered just inside the complex's gate, Mr. Retana returned and stopped outside the gate.

They watched as he quickly unhooked the car, "abandoning the vehicle in the middle of the parking lot without regards for the safety" of the boy, a police report says.

When an officer got to the car, he found the boy inside – still asleep.

Officers pulled over Mr. Retana nearby on Chalk Hill Road.

Mr. Zuniga blamed Mr. Retana on Tuesday for leaving with the car so quickly, without checking it out well enough to know a boy was inside.

"I hate the way towing people run the business," he said.

Mr. Retana declined an interview request from the jail, but his attorney said he was only doing what tow truck drivers always do to look out for their own safety.

"It's a dangerous occupation," attorney David Traylor said. "Every interest of the tow truck driver is to get out of there quickly so you don't get shot or beaten up."

His client noticed the boy only when he stopped around the corner to ensure that he'd hooked up everything properly, Mr. Traylor said. Then he immediately dropped the car back off. He left again in a hurry because he knew the parents were there and were probably angry, the attorney said.

"He tried to do everything he could to get the kid back quickly," Mr. Traylor said. "I think it was possibly a bad decision to arrest him for a charge that didn't fit."

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