You have a quick errand to run. Do you leave your child alone in the car while you make it? What if you’re only a few steps away? What if you can see your vehicle at all times?
This was the choice facing one mom from Beaverton, Oregon, and the split-second decision she made ended up turning into her worst nightmare.
Crystal Leary left her 4-year-old in the backseat of her car, with the engine running and doors unlocked, while she quickly ran into Basics Meat Market to purchase meat and a gallon of milk.
She was a mere 15 feet away on the other side of the glass when the unthinkable happened. Her 2013 Honda Pilot was carjacked – with her son still in the back.
According to Beaverton police spokesman Officer Matt Henderson, it was a crime of opportunity. In an interview with the Oregonian he says:
“The thief saw the car was unlocked and had keys in the ignition, and he went for it.”
What he didn’t go for was the added bonus of a 4-year-old. Surprise!
Upon realizing that there was a child in the vehicle, the thief did a U-turn in the adjacent Video Only parking lot and drove back to the store.
Because while the thief may be ALL about grand theft auto, he’s no kidnapper thankyouverymuch.
At this point, you would think that the carjacker would have just dropped the car (and kid) off and run. But you would be wrong.
Instead, in a bizarre turn of events, the thief took the opportunity to berate the mother for leaving her child alone in the car AND THREATENED TO CALL THE POLICE. ON HER.
He then proceeded to hand off the child and drove away. In her stolen car.
“He actually lectured the mother for leaving the child in the car and threatened to call the police on her.”
Which you have to admit, is a bit ironic, don’t you think? I mean, he was smack dab in the middle of committing grand larceny, which in the state of Oregon could get him up to 5 years in prison.
And as for Crystal Leary? What she did wasn’t illegal in the state of Oregon.
While people online are quick to grab their pitchforks and pin Leary to the stake for the crime of “terrible mother,” consider this for a hot second – the local police have said she did nothing wrong.
“What she did was not a crime. She was within sight and sound of her child. But she left the car running, so take that extra step, take the keys with you.”
This isn’t the case in all states.
According to kidsandcars.org, currently, 20 states in the US have laws that specifically make it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. The criteria differ from state to state with the cutoff age being anywhere from six to 13 years of age.
In addition, almost all of the state laws require some sort of risk — such as extreme heat or cold, a running engine, or keys left in the vehicle — for a parent to be convicted of a violation.
Penalties can range anywhere from a $100 fine to jail time.
Whether or not you live in a state where it is illegal to leave your child in a car unattended, let’s get real for a minute. Crystal Leary is not the first parent to do this by a long shot, and won’t be the last.
If you happen to be a child of the 80s or 90s you more than likely were left in the car, windows rolled down, music blaring, while your mother (or father) slipped into the convenience store to buy a pack of cigarettes.
And if you’re a parent now you’ve at least been tempted to leave your child in the vehicle, for just a minute.
Crystal Leary is just grateful that her story has a happy ending and her child is safe. She tells CNN affiliate KPTV that she will never leave her son alone in the car again:
“As moms, we get really busy and we think we’re just running in for a second and this is just a perfect example of just letting our guards down and how terrible it could have ended. I am thankful that he is okay. It was so stupid and I’ll never do that again, but it’s that split-second decision that can just change everything.”
As for the thief? He is apparently still on the loose (likely banging his head and reminding himself to CHECK THE BACKSEAT before his next hit.) The car, however, was recovered a few hours later in Portland, just 8 miles away from Beaverton.
Let this be a cautionary tale for all of us. The next time you’re out and about running errands with your kids you may want to heed officer Henderson’s advice:
“Be extra careful with your kids, take the extra step to make sure they’re safe.”
Because as Crystal Leary discovered the hard way, one choice has the potential to change everything in an instant.