— Police in a Detroit suburb are crediting a good Samaritan with preventing an accident by calling 911 at 3 a.m. Saturday to report seeing a young child behind the wheel of a van as it pulled out of a gas station.
“A 7-year-old is driving it and her dad is drunk and he's in the passenger side,” the caller told a 911 dispatcher as he followed the van down West Road in the small community of Brownstown Township.
“She’s got her turn signal on," he said. "She’s turning right."
At one point, the dispatcher asked, “Is the vehicle staying on the road?”
“She’s driving pretty good, I’m telling you, I can’t believe it,” said the witness, who was not identified.
Brownstown police were also stunned when an officer pulled the van over a few moments later. Behind the wheel of the full-sized panel work van was a young girl in a booster seat. Apparently, the child was still able operate the gas and the brakes, while seeing out of the front window, according to Detective Lt. Robert Grant.
“She looks at the uniformed police officer, and says ‘What did you stop me for? I was driving good,’" Grant said. "Absolutely incredible.”
The child, who turned out to be 9, told police that her father had been drinking whiskey all night when he decided to take them out for a drive, police said. He later suggested his daughter do the driving. Apparently, she had done it before.
The dad, identified as Weimer Shawn Russell, told officers that he had been teaching his daughter how to drive. The girl’s parents are separated, and she was spending a visitation weekend with her father, Grant added.
“The father was adamant he didn’t do anything wrong,” Grant said.
Authorities see the situation differently.
Russell, 39, was charged with two counts of child abuse, one a felony and the other a misdemeanor. He was also charged with being a habitual offender from prior convictions including receiving and concealing stolen property, unarmed robbery, a felon in possession of a firearm and felony firearm possession, Grant said.
He was released on a $25,000 bond and is slated to make another court appearance on Tuesday, Grant said.
As for the little girl, she was sent home to her mother, Grant said. Wayne County Child Protective Services is investigating the case, he said.
Grant credits the 911 caller for making all the difference in how everything turned out. “He’s a really good guy,” he said. “It was a terrible accident waiting to happen.”