Crime & Courts

A car was stolen, a baby kidnapped, and now the father may be charged, police say

A man accused of stealing a car with a baby inside may not be the only person charged in the incident.

Columbia police say they will consult with the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office about potential charges for the child’s father, who left the baby in the car, according to Jennifer Timmons, spokesperson for the police department. The father left the car running with the child inside in the Five Points Chick-fil-A parking lot Saturday, police said.

The 9-month-old who was in the car was found in a car seat blocks away on Laurel Street.

The man accused of stealing the car was captured after a high-speed chase in West Virginia, according to Columbia police. David Rodgers Monts was found inside another vehicle that was reported stolen from a gas station in Orange County, N.C. The car that was stolen from Columbia was found in the same North Carolina county, police said.

Monts will be charged with kidnapping and larceny of a vehicle when extradited to South Carolina, according to police.

Days before the alleged Columbia car theft, Monts got out of jail to await trial on charges from a Charlotte shooting, records show. He cut off an ankle monitor, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said.

Monts has a lengthy criminal history including convictions for assault and batter and burglary, court record show.

Authorities have charged other parents or family members with crimes in prior cases of children being left in cars. Typically the arrests involve kids in cars on hot days or warm enough days to make the inside of a car dangerous.

In 2016, a Lexington woman was charged with unlawful conduct toward a child when she left her two children in a truck with temperatures in the low 90s while she got groceries, a police report said. She told an officer she left them in the vehicle for around five minutes and that the air conditioner was on. The children were uninjured. Her charges were dismissed, court records show.

A teacher in Aiken County was charged with unlawful conduct toward a child in 2018 after she told officers she accidentally left her toddler in the car the entire school day, an incident report said. Doctors found the girl had an elevated body temperature but she was expected to recover with no detriments to her health. Those charges are pending, according to court records.

In February, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department charged a woman with unlawful conduct toward a child after she allegedly left a child in a hot car while she got her nails done. She told deputies she did not do anything wrong because she could see her son from inside the salon, deputies said. Court proceedings are still ongoing in the case.

Unlawful neglect is a felony punishable with up to 10 years in prison.

Other parents have been charged in deaths of their children when they died from being left in cars.

South Carolina doesn’t have a law against leaving a child in a vehicle although a proposal to enact such a law was introduced in 2010 but never passed. It is illegal to “abandon the child,” but the law doesn’t specify a time limit or the child’s age. A bill introduced at the State House this legislative session sought to amend South Carolina’s child abuse and neglect laws to state that children who are old enough and mature enough don’t always have to have adult supervision, including when they are left in a vehicle.

Sen. Wes Climer, R-York, a sponsor of the colloquially known “free range parenting” legislation, said the bill was meant to address situations like children being left in cars while parents attend to responsibilities.

However, a parent or guardian who “intentionally, recklessly, knowingly or with criminal negligence” leaves a child in a vehicle unattended still could be charged with child abuse or neglect under the proposed law.

The free range parenting law passed the Senate but is caught up in a House committee.

David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.