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updated 01.06.2009

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First-grader attempted to drive to school

by Reid Pierce Armstrong for the Rappahannock Record

HEATHSVILLE—Charges have been filed against the parents of a six-year-old boy who tried to drive himself to school Monday.

The incident quickly became a national news item and was even featured on CNN’s homepage.  You can watch their video here.
The first-grader missed his school bus on the first day back from the holiday vacation, according to Northumberland County Sheriff Chuck Wilkins.

When he was unable to wake his mother, he got the keys and took the car, Sheriff Wilkins said.

The boy, who lives on Browns Store Road near Wicomico Church, managed the nearly 12-mile drive in his parents 2005 Ford Taurus by moving the seat all the way forward with the push of an electronic button and sitting on the edge of his seat, said responding deputy Roger Briney.

He was not wearing a seatbelt, Deputy Briney said.

He crossed the Great Wicomico River bridge, turned left at the stoplight in Burgess and wound his way through the curves near Horsehead, passing cars one and two at a time across the double lines, Sheriff Wilkins said.

The sheriff’s department started receiving calls around 7:30 a.m. with reports of what appeared to be a child driving a car erratically near Macedonia Church, Sheriff Wilkins said.

Four deputies were converging on the vehicle, hoping to stop it, but the boy lost control of the car before they arrived, the sheriff said.

As he approached Avalon, the boy slid off the road while attempting to pass another vehicle, smashing the passenger side of the vehicle into a telephone pole near the intersection of Avalon Road and Northumberland Highway (Route 360), Sheriff Wilkins said. He was within sight of the school complex.

The first two deputies arrived moments later, Sheriff Wilkins said.

“When the first deputy and I got there and we realized that little boy was the driver we were all just shocked,” said Deputy Briney.

The responding officers picked the boy up out of the car and tried to calm him down, Deputy Briney said.

He had escaped the accident with only a small bump on his head.

“He was crying hysterical,” Deputy Briney said. “He wanted to know if the car could be fixed. He was concerned about his book bag.”

Once calm, the boy started to walk away, explained Deputy Briney.

“I said, ‘Where are you going,?’ and he said ‘I’m going to school. I’m late.’ I promised him he’d get to go to school but that he had to wait here for a little while,” Deputy Briney said.

“He told us that he learned to drive from playing video games: Grand Theft Auto and Monster Jam,” Sheriff Wilkins said.

The boy was taken by ambulance to Rappahannock General Hospital where he was treated and released.

His parents, Jacqulyn Deana Waltman and David Eugene Dodson of Browns Store Road in Heathsville are being charged with Class 6 felonies of child neglect, described as a willful act of omission of care so gross and wanton as to show disregard for life, Sheriff Wilkins said.

Both were charged Monday and taken to Northern Neck Regional jail. Their two children have been put in foster care.

Northumberland Highway was closed for a while following the accident due to the fact that a cross member on the telephone was broken and live wires were attached, Sheriff Wilkins said.

Reflecting on the accident, Deputy Briney said that, while it’s an interesting story and one he’s shared with his friends in the law enforcement community, he was overwhelmed by emotion when he started thinking how disastrous this could have been.

“It’s such a miracle that he got where he got and he did what he did and nobody got hurt,” Deputy Briney said.

posted 01.06.2009

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