Parents leaving kids unattended in vehicles can face stiff fines

It’s any parent’s nightmare. On Wednesday, it could have been worse. An SUV was stolen in Pearl City, with two young children inside. Police say the mother had left the car running while going to get something inside the house, when the thief jumped into the car and drove off. She was gone for less than a minute when the Honda SUV was taken.

“She was right there she was crying falling down on her knees everything,” said Corey Dennison, an eye-witness. “I would be crying, too, if my kids were gone.” KHON2 asked Dennison why she left her kids in the car. “I think she just got home and I guess she walked to her unit and she came back and her car was gone.”

The suspect left the car just before noon on the side of Ho’omoana Street, about a mile away from the woman’s townhouse just before noon. The infant girl and the little boy insider the car were not harmed.

A security camera from one of the area residents shows the suspect coming out of the car and carrying what looks like a large garbage bag. He he ran off and has not yet been found. He is described as a man in his 20’s, standing 5’9 inches tall and weighing about 150 pounds.

In the past, there have been two other incidents in Honolulu where children were trapped in a car that was stolen. In both cases, the children were not harmed. KHON 2 came across a Hawaii law that says if police comes across a situation in which a young child was left alone in a car even for a few minutes, the person responsible can be slapped with at least a $200 fine.

The Hawaii State Legislature passed the law in 2008. It says if the child is left in the car alone for more than 5 minutes, and the child is younger than 9 years old, the first offense is a $200 fine. The second offense is $300, and the fine for a third and subsequent offense is $500.

During the summer, the most likely scenario is a child being overcome by the heat if left alone in a car with the windows rolled up and no air conditioning. That is not the only danger.

“Rollovers and backovers are where if the kids are in the car and they put it in neutral, the can run over somebody,” said Representative Karl Rhodes, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “And occasionally, someone gets kidnapped.”

The founder and president of the national organization Kids and Cars, which works to protect children in and around vehicles, says she has heard all kinds of excuses from people who leave their children alone in cars. The most common is “I will be back in just a minute.”

“Those excuses to me say they’re putting their convenience over the safety of their children,” said Janette Fennel. “And children should never be left alone, especially if they’re in a public place and anything can happen.”

Can you think of a scenario in which you would leave your child alone in a car?

“Times are not the same – you have to be a little more careful, be a little paranoid,” said Anna Fausto, the mother of a daughter. “Things do happen in life sometimes and you want to make sure that nothing happens to your children.”

“I used to think it was safe – I’ve done it before in the past, said Sergio Alcubilla, the father of two young children. “But after today, I can’t do it anymore.”

That’s a good idea according to the office that runs the Missing Child Center for Hawaii.

“Our message would be – don’t do that because an abduction can occur at any time, and when you least expect it, it can occur,” said Russell Suzuki, the First Deputy in the office of the Hawaii State Attorney General. “So don’t put your child or yourself in that position.”

The 2008 law also made sure that drivers understand there is a penalty for leaving a young child alone in a car. This scenario is a question for anyone who takes the written test when applying for a driver’s license.

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