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Parents arrested after child left in car for four hours

Posted: October 7, 2010 9:10 p.m.
Updated: October 8, 2010 5:00 a.m.
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Felicia Belton allegedly waited more than two hours to call police and then claimed her car had been stolen. She and her baby's father were charged with unlawful conduct toward a child.

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2 a.m., Sunday. Camden Police Department (CPD) Patrolman B. Kyle Hewitt conducts a routine property check of the city’s Woodward Park. He quickly sees something unusual: the tail lights of a silver 2002 Oldsmobile Alero near the woods beside the Don Holland Memorial Bridge.

“I drove up to the car and noticed the car was on an incline against the trees and still running,” Hewitt wrote in his report. “I asked dispatch to run the tag number … dispatch advised me to contact them immediately.”

Kershaw County dispatchers informed Hewitt that the car’s owner, Felicia Monique Belton, 25, of Winnsboro, had called at 12:20 a.m., a little more than 90 minutes earlier. Dispatchers told Hewitt that Belton had asked if they’d received a report that her car had been stolen from somewhere in the Camden area with her infant son in the back seat.

“I located the infant inside the car. He was asleep and still secured in his child seat. The vehicle was in drive and all of the doors were locked,” Hewitt reported.

All of the windows were rolled up as well, except for one that was cracked open slightly, said CPD Chief Joe Floyd. He said Hewitt and Investigator Ed Corey, who had been nearby, used their hands to force the window down and unlock the car.

“The first thing they did was to put the car in park and switch it off,” said Floyd. “Then they checked on the boy and determined he was sleeping. They left him sleeping in the car until social services came.”

But the child hadn’t been in the car for 90 minutes and the car hadn’t been stolen. The CPD has determined the boy had been in the car for four hours, abandoned by his father who ran after being pulled over by a S.C. Highway Patrol (SCHP) trooper. Floyd said Belton has been charged with filing a false police report of a felony and unlawful conduct toward a child. The boy’s father, Sherwone Enik Burris, 27, also of Winnsboro, has also been charged with unlawful conduct toward a child as well as driving under suspension and being an habitual traffic offender.

Floyd said his department also has questions about exactly what happened when Burris was pulled over by the Highway Patrol and why his department and other agencies weren’t alerted by dispatchers after Belton’s 12:20 a.m. call.

According to Floyd, Belton eventually made her way to Camden, spotting CPD Cpl. James Steele who had pulled someone over at an East DeKalb Street grocery store.

“She told him she was looking for her car and baby,” said Floyd.

By then, however, the Alero and her son had been found. Belton was escorted to CPD headquarters where, Floyd said, she “concocts a story.” According to Hewitt’s report, Belton told officers a woman she had only met around 2:30 p.m. the day before had agreed to watch her child while she was at work from 3 to 11 p.m. She claimed the woman dropped her off at work, leaving with the child in the back seat.

“Belton said she trusted her because she was a friend of her baby’s father, Sherwone Burris,” wrote Hewitt.

Belton then claimed the woman called her at work around 10 p.m. saying someone stole her car with the baby inside and then hung up the phone. She also claimed she didn’t call 911 immediately because she was so upset and just wanted to find her child.

It was all lies, said Floyd.

After being interviewed again, this time by Corey, Belton admitted the truth: she had allowed Burris, the baby’s father, to drive her car and drop her off at work. The phone call she received at 10 p.m. was from Burris, telling her police had tried to stop the car and he panicked because his license was suspended; that he had driven the car into the park and left it there, with their son in the back seat.

At different times, Floyd said, both Belton and Burris had been in touch with a woman they hoped would lie for them; that she would claim to be the woman who had agreed to watch the baby and from the car had been stolen.

“She told them ‘no,’” said Floyd.

Belton didn’t just lie to police about how her Alero ended up where it did. Floyd said that, alone, would have only garnered her the charge of filing a false report. But she also hesitated to contact law enforcement, leading to her son being alone in the car for four hours.

“Our investigation indicates she left work at 11 p.m.,” an hour after Burris contacted her, said Floyd, “but didn’t call dispatchers until 12:20 a.m.”

That is why, he said, she is being charged with unlawful conduct toward a child.

Belton was immediately arrested and booked at the Kershaw County Detention Center (KCDC). Bond was set at $26,000 with a 10 percent cash or surety option. She made bond and was released from jail Tuesday.

After learning of Burris’ involvement, the CPD contacted the Winnsboro Police Department (WPD) which immediately began searching for him. WPD officers located him Monday.

“We sent some of our officers and brought him back here and served his warrants,” said Floyd.

Burris’ bond was set at $28,000, with the 10 percent option. He had yet to make bond Thursday and remained at KCDC.

Even with the boy in DSS custody and his parents charged, the CPD still has questions -- questions for two other agencies involved in the case.

First, Floyd said he wants to know why the SCHP trooper who pulled the Alero over didn’t check the car after Burris fled.

“We haven’t spoken to the trooper, but it appears he may have started a pursuit that terminated when the car was abandoned at the tree line near the soccer field,” said Floyd.

From what investigators have been able to learn, Floyd said, Burris was pulled over around 10 p.m. Saturday at or near the intersection of West DeKalb Street and Chesnut Ferry Road near the entrance to Woodward Park. After pulling the Alero over, the trooper reportedly got out of his patrol car and began to approach the car. At that point, however, Burris drove off into the park. Burris has stated, said Floyd, that the trooper was behind him when he jumped out of the car before it rolled slowly toward the tree line.

Floyd said the Alero’s front end came to rest against a tree. At that point, the CPD believes, the trooper terminated pursuit and apparently left the scene.

The CPD does know that the trooper called SCHP’s own dispatchers when he pulled the Alero over. After Belton confessed, said Floyd, Corey put out a “regional broadcast” asking if any agency had contact with Belton’s car.

“And we got a response back from SCHP dispatch,” said Floyd.

What the CPD wants to know is why that trooper, who has yet to be identified, didn’t check the Alero after Burris ran. Floyd said his department has talked to the trooper’s supervisor, but had yet to learn exactly what actions the trooper took or didn’t take.

Sid Gaulden, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Public Safety, the SCHP’s parent agency, said the trooper was unable to check the car because of what Burris did to elude him.

Gaulden confirmed that the trooper exited his patrol vehicle, but as he approached the Alero, Burris sped off, making a right turn into Woodward Park and then immediately made another right turn.

“At that point, the trooper lost sight of the car and, so, never saw the suspect jump out,” said Gauldin. “His shift supervisor told him to get back on U.S. 1 and see if the car popped back up.”

Statements given to the CPD by both Belton and Burris indicated the trooper was right behind Burris when he jumped from the car.

As for Belton’s 911 call, Floyd said Corey also listened to a tape of the call at Kershaw County Dispatch earlier this week. On it, said Floyd, Belton asks if her car has been reported stolen from somewhere in the Camden area, provides a description of the Alero and says her baby is in the back seat.

Dispatchers did not issue a “be on the lookout,” or BOLO, nor did they alert any local enforcement in any other way to the possibility of a stolen car with a baby inside, said Floyd.

“As more time went by, there was more potential for that child to be in danger,” said Floyd. “This begins with a normal security check, with our patrolman finding the car, and ends up with us recovering a child that had been in abandoned in that car for four hours.”

Kirk Stropes, director of Kershaw County Central Dispatch, said a BOLO is normally issued after an agency has begun an investigation and requests that a BOLO be broadcast.

“How can we ask for a BOLO if we’ve never been told about the car in the first place?” asked Floyd.

Stropes said Belton did not give out a lot of information to dispatchers.

“She just said her car was stolen with a child inside but when they tried to get more information, she became very hesitant,” said Stropes. “She claimed she would be arriving in Camden in a couple of minutes and would call back with more information, but she never did.”

Stropes said Belton gave only an incomplete description of the car as a 2002 Alero, but not its color; she also did not tell them where the car might have been located.

“She said her ‘cousin’ had told her the car had been stolen, but couldn’t give us a call back number for her and when we asked her how long ago it had been stolen, she hemmed and hawed and said maybe 20 minutes ago. Things just didn’t add up,” Stropes said.

He said when he listened to the tape of the call Tuesday with Corey it sounded “hokey.”

Stropes said he met Wednesday with members of Sunday morning’s dispatch shift.

“In this situation, they were trying to wait for more information. It just didn’t sound right. It turned out the car wasn’t stolen, but the child was in it. She also gave us her name; that was one of the few truthful things she gave us,” said Stropes, who categorized Saturday night and Sunday morning as a “busy night.”

Looking back, Stropes agreed it would have been a good idea for dispatchers to broadcast something to law enforcement.

“In 20/20 hindsight, yeah, they should have put out something,” Stropes said. “I got a sick feeling in my stomach when (Corey) told me what happened. The car could have caught fire or gone down to the left of where it ended up in a gully where it couldn’t be seen. There could’ve been loss of life.”

Stropes said he and dispatchers have agreed, from now on, to take a few extra steps when a child is involved.

“I’m glad it turned out the way it did, but it could have been a lot worse,” said Stropes.

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