Mother charged after child left in vehicle outside toy store

Edmonton police have charged a mother with abandoning her five-year-old son in a running vehicle in the parking of a toy store.
Police say a five-year-old boy was left in a vehicle outside this southside Toys R Us on Aug. 15. His mother had allegedly been inside the store for 30 minutes, while her son climbed to the front seat and revved the engine. (CBC)

Edmonton police have charged a mother with abandoning her five-year-old son in a running vehicle in the parking of a toy store. Charges were laid Tuesday, while the alleged incident happened last month.

The 33-year-old woman has been charged with child abandonment, as well as willfully causing a child to be in need of intervention -- a charge under the province's Child Youth Family Enhancement Act.

Sgt. Gary Willits says calls to police about children left in vehicles have increased this summer. (CBC)
Police were called after a passerby saw the child in the vehicle of the Toys "R" Us at Calgary Trail and 39 Avenue at around 7:20 p.m. on Aug. 15. Police say the witness saw that the child had unfastened his seatbelt, climbed to the front seat and was revving the engine.

Police say the child was left alone for 30 minutes while his mom was shopping. The temperature was 25 C that evening.

"He could have put the vehicle potentially in gear," Sgt. Gary Willits with the Edmonton Police Child at Risk Response Team told a press conference Thursday.

Willits added that the boy had rolled down the window and was sitting on the window sill, putting him at risk.

"This child was accessible by numerous people -- anybody going by."

By the time officers arrived, the mother had driven away. However, the witness had taken a photo of her licence plate, allowing police to track her down.

Increase in calls to police

Willits said police receive four to five calls per week about children left in vehicles -- an increase over past years.

On the day before the Toys "R" Us incident, a police officer on a bike rescued a child from a vehicle as the temperature neared 30 C. A 33-year-old man was criminally charged in that case.

In July, a Drayton Valley woman was charged with child abandonment after a two-year-old girl was left alone in a vehicle outside a Costco on the southside.

Willits praised the public for helping young victims by staying with them at the vehicle, and with helping investigations by taking photos and videos.

"Render assistance if needed. Call the police immediately."

So far this summer, two people have been criminally charged and 14 charged under provincial law with leaving children under their care in a vehicle.

In a high-profile case in July, a three-year-old girl died after being found in a vehicle in northeast Edmonton, although her parents were found not to be at fault.