UPDATED: VALLE VISTA: Tiny, midnight wanderer – rescued from busy Highway 74 – reunited with family

WRITER’S NOTE: As this is a breaking story, many names, details and the final outcome are not yet known. As this story develops, I will be posting updates, with as much information as possible.

 

UPDATE: June 6, 1 p.m.

In an e-mail response from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Media Information Bureau, a sheriff’s official confirmed that deputies responded to and investigated an incident involving a toddler who was spotted and rescued while walking in the lanes of traffic on Highway 74, in the unincorporated community of Valle Vista.

At least two to three women who spotted the child shortly after 11:30 p.m., immediately ran onto the highway to rescue the young boy – who initially fled in terror from the women – running westbound in the lanes of traffic towards a nearby Dollar General store.

The tiny child, who apparently has a bright future as a track star, managed to temporarily elude the pursuing women, running “all the way around the back of the Dollar General to the front of the closed and pitch-black business,” one of the little boy’s rescuers later explained.

The women were finally able to corral the speedy tot near the front doors of the store and safely brought him back to their home. Evans immediately called 911 to report the wayward wanderer.

On Sunday night at 11:45 p.m., we received a report of a found child (on) E. Florida Avenue and Fairview Avenue,” the e-mail explained. “We responded and found a 2-year-old-juvenile unattended.”

During the course of their investigation, sheriff’s officials took the child into protective custody and later turned the runaway toddler over to Child Protective Services social workers, who “assumed custody of the child.”

Sheriff’s officials and CPS workers were able to identify the boy’s parents and return him to them several hours later, when the mother of the child – who had been at work until about 3:30 a.m. – returned home and discovered her son was missing from his bed.

Authorities learned that while the 2-year-old’s father was sleeping – after he had put his son to bed for the night – the adventurous tyke had gotten out of his bed, opened his front door and wandered away from his residence.

After an investigation that “took hours,” officials investigating the incident “determined that no criminal negligence was discovered,” said MIB officials, who also advised, “CPS is conducting an independent investigation.”

Word of the incident first began to spread like wildfire across social media after one of the women who spotted and rescued the boy from the roadway, identified as Elizabeth Evans, began live streaming the discovery of the child on her Facebook page as the incident was still unfolding. The woman also later shared her video with the Hemet-based social media news group, Hemet News.

The discovery of the child walking on such a busy highway at nearly midnight became the subject of countless conversations across social media as more people began seeing and sharing the nearly 18-minute long video.

After reading about the child’s initial rescue, countless people took to social media, sharing their thoughts and opinions about such a small child not only getting out of his house at nearly midnight, but more so the fact that the tot had managed to wander along the lanes of traffic of such a busy highway without being harmed.

As people began to hear word that the child had been returned to his parents, it was as if the entire Hemet and San Jacinto valley let out a sigh of relief; with many praising the selfless actions of the women who chased down and rescued the boy.

This is a developing story. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.

 

ORIGINAL STORY: Tiny, midnight wanderer rescued while walking on busy Highway 74

HEMET — Details are still emerging after yet another toddler was found wandering on a busy, local highway late Sunday night, June 4. The child, believed to be about one-year-old, was first spotted walking in the lanes of traffic on Highway 74, in the unincorporated community of Valle Vista.

Sunday night’s incident comes on the heels of another tiny tot who was found by a Hemet-area truck driver, while she was wandering alongside busy Gilman Springs Road just over one month ago on Wednesday, April 26.

In that incident – which gained both national and international coverage – the good Samaritan who rescued the small child after he spotted the girl walking along the dirt shoulder of the busy roadway also live streamed the incident to his Facebook page.

SEE RELATED: Officials investigating after wandering toddler pulled from side of busy Gilman Springs Road

Sunday night’s incident began about 11:30 p.m., when several family members were dropping off one of their sisters at her Valle Vista residence.

Within moments of pulling into the driveway – as one of the sisters, later identified as Elizabeth Evans was walking into her residence – one of the women inside the vehicle spotted a tiny child wandering in the lanes of traffic on Highway 74. The toddler was partway between Fairview Avenue and 4th Street.

The first woman to spot the child, Analees Espinoza, was so surprised to see the wandering child, she said she initially did not believe what she was seeing.

“At first I thought he was a dog,” the woman said. “I’m blind and I don’t have my glasses on me so I’m like are you sure? And then I realized it was a child.”

“I was just talking and then suddenly I was yelling, “It’s a baby!” Espinoza explained.

She immediately began honking her vehicle’s horn to get Evans’ attention before she went into her residence.

Evans, who later said she heard her sister honking the horn while yelling something about a baby, said she was confused at first and couldn’t understand what she and the other women were yelling about, as they clamored out of the vehicle. Suddenly she realized they were yelling, “There’s a baby in the street!”

Evans said she looked towards the highway and saw the tiny tot walking in the lanes of traffic, heading eastbound on the highway.

“I just ran for him,” Evans explained; first in a Facebook live stream, posted within moments of rescuing the boy from the highway and then again later to sheriff’s officials.

“He was frantic while we were chasing after him.

He was screaming and running from us.”

As Evans and at least two other women raced towards the child, “the baby panicked and took off running, back towards the Dollar General store,” said Evans.

As the women were chasing the toddler, Evans explained, “I was running and looking back at the same time, making sure no was going to come…and hit him.”

In spite of their efforts to catch the fleeing child, Evans said, “He ran around the whole (Dollar General), then through the parking lot in the pitch-dark.”

Evans, who explained the boy had a large lead on the women who had to run quite some distance to just to catch up with him, said, “We finally caught up to him and trapped him by the front doors of the Dollar General store.”

Evans said she was already calling 911 while she and the others were still trying to catch the toddler.

“He was frantic while we were chasing after him, the poor thing,” said Evans. “He was screaming and running. He was crying so hard.”

Another woman who helped chase down the little boy can be heard on the video saying, “I know I was scared…I was running so fast after him because I didn’t want him to get scared.”

“But this one here,” she said as she pointed to the toddler, “he was freakin’ running!”

Once the women had corralled the wayward tot, the women brought the boy back her sister’s house, who lives down the street from her. As they were walking, Evans began to post the incident live to her Facebook profile to document the events as they unfolded.

The area where the women first spotted the child along Highway 74 was so dark, very little can actually be seen on the nearly 18-minute long recording; however, the audio is very clear.

Throughout the live recording, Evans, Espinoza and others who came out of their homes to see what all the activity on their street was about can be heard excitedly talking about the rescue from the dangerous highway.

The video ends as the toddler is being driven away in a sheriff’s patrol vehicle to be taken to the Hemet Sheriff’s Station in Valle Vista.

With no street lights throughout the area, those who found the child

felt it was too dangerous to search on foot for the tot’s home.

After pulling the barefoot and pajama-clad wanderer from the roadway, one of the women quickly fetched a warm blanket to wrapped him in.

Just twenty-six seconds after Evans began posting the live stream to her Facebook page, the first sheriff’s official deputy arrived at the scene. Other sheriff’s officials, including a corporal and sergeant began arriving just minutes later.

Of the many neighbors who came out to help with finding the child’s family and home, none had ever seen the toddler and every time a car would drive into or past the area, the small group of good Samaritans hopefully wondered aloud if it was possibly the child’s parents looking for the boy.

They were disappointed each time.

Although some of the neighbors discussed walking up and down the street to try searching for the child’s family, others said it was simply too dangerous. As one of the men said, because there are no street lights throughout the area, it is too dark and unsafe to walk in the area at night.

While waiting with the tiny tot, some of the neighbors tried to offer the boy food and a drink, but the shy little guy was not interested and wouldn’t take either.

Several times, different people in the group attempted to talk to the boy and ask him questions such as his name and if he knew where he lived; however, the little boy barely spoke more than two or three words throughout the entire incident.

Within minutes, as the investigation went into full-swing, the entire street and neighborhood was flooded with sheriff’s officials and curious neighbors.

Amidst all the activity, Evans worried about the affect the situation might be having on the boy, saying, “Poor guy. Oh my God, it breaks my heart for him not to be able to have his parents right now. What do you think he’s going through, you know?”

“This is so ridiculously sad,” Evans continued. “I would be panicking (if my child went missing.)”

Long after the law enforcement officials arrived and were ready to take the child, the group of woman, almost all mothers and grandmothers, protectively guarded their little gem, who they soon nicknamed “Buddy.” The women clearly did not want to give the baby to waiting officials.

While the group waited, they speculated about how bad the outcome could have turned out, had the family that found the boy not come home at exactly the time that they had.

“He (could have gotten) hit or kidnapped or who knows what the hell else could have happened to him,” Evans said at one point. “Luckily, (we) had just got home and we spotted this little dude.”

Another woman from the group agreed, saying, “It was meant for you guys to get home at that time, it really was.” Others among the group agreed.

“He’s a blessed little baby,” said Evans.

Many, including several young children who were out with their parents during the ordeal, wondered if officials would be taking the child, if the parents might be arrested and if CPS would get involved.

At one point a boy believed to be Evans’ son asked his mom if she thought the toddler would be taken away and given to another family, at which time his mother responded, “Let’s see what happens.”

The boy clearly seemed to think the child would be punished for getting out of his house and that as punishment, he would be taken from his parents , but Evans explained to him, “It’s not his fault. It’s the parent’s fault.”

“Coming down Hwy. 74,

(the boy) could have gotten clobbered,” said one official.

As the video continues, vehicles can be seen driving past the location on the highway at freeway speeds or faster. The posted speed limit along that section of semi-rural roadway is 55 mph.

Highway 74, also known as Florida Avenue within the city limits, is the main roadway that runs east and west through Hemet and is often heavily traveled.

While they waited, another person in the group helping to care for the tot said to one of the sheriff’s officials, “You don’t know how long he’s been wandering…and this street (Highway 74) is so dangerous.”

A sheriff’s corporal at the scene agreed, candidly saying, “Coming down Hwy. 74, (the boy) could have gotten clobbered.”

One child then responded, “For all we know he was crossing up and down (the Hwy.) and who knows for how long. It’s probably been forever ‘cuz his diaper was loaded.”

One of the women laughed and agreed, saying, “He’s not potty trained, he had a full and sagging diaper.”

In spite of all the commotion, flashing law enforcement lights and excitement, as midnight came and went, the boy was visibly exhausted and barely staying awake.

“He’s so tired, he can barely keep his eyes open, poor baby,” Evans said.

Speaking with officials and others about where the child might have come from and considering how the boy had initially run from the women, Evans jokingly said, “For all we know he’s probably from the west side (of Hemet) and walked all the way over here. You never know.”

Trying to determine how long the boy might have actually been out, a sheriff official at the scene checked the little wanderer’s bare feet to see if they were dirty, scraped up or showed signs of having been out walking for a long time.

“They’re not too bad and they’re not raw, so he hasn’t been running around too long,” the official said.

While they were waiting, the neighbors talked about another recent incident in the same area where a different young child somehow got out of their house and wandered onto the same highway.

One couple at the scene recalled how just months ago, they were working in their garden when they suddenly heard people yelling and horns honking. When the couple realized that people were yelling about a baby walking on the highway, the husband literally sprung into action – leaping over a fence surrounding his property – before running out into the roadway to grab the baby and carry it to safety.

In that incident the child only wandered one house away from his own residence when the neighbors spotted him and pulled him out of the roadway.

A tearful goodbye

After nearly 15 minutes of very patiently waiting for the women to hand over the baby, the corporal at the scene finally convinced them it was time for him to transport the tyke to the nearby sheriff’s station, where he would be turned over to CPS social workers.

The women – who had formed an immediate bond with the quiet little fella – were very reluctant to let the boy go, even to the safety and warmth of the nearby sheriff’s station.

When they eventually relinquished the barely awake child to the corporal, once the official had the baby in his arms – almost as if not even thinking about it – he immediately cradled the child close to his chest, cooing and talking to him while rocking from side-to-side, soothing the child.

While the corporal spent several minutes trying to break free from the crowd of good Samaritans, everyone at the scene – especially the women and children – crowded around the official and child. All wanted to take turns touching the baby, tousling his hair, hugging him and wishing him well.

Even though she knew it was time to reluctantly say goodbye to the boy, before the corporal walked away with the child, Evans asked hopefully if she and her sisters could keep the little boy until his family was located.

“Well, he’s not a stray puppy,” the corporal quipped, bringing laughter from the group.

Another woman, not quite ready to say goodbye to the quiet, little boy, admitted, “I’m just trying to prolong it a little.”

As the toddler was carried to the waiting patrol vehicle, one bystander, who sounded like she was nearly in tears, finally said, “Be a good boy, OK?”

Understanding the groups’ emotional response to seeing the boy taken, the corporal did his best to reassure the crowd that the baby would be well cared for.

“It’s very difficult,” he admitted to the group. “I’ve told my wife there’s been more than one time when I wanted to bring a kid home.”

While the corporal was leaving, he thanked the women who had chased down the baby and rescued him from the roadway, as well as all those who had come out in the middle of the cold night to help comfort and care for the little adventurer.

Just as the corporal was placing the exhausted little boy into a car seat, one young boy in the group sadly lamented, “We don’t even know his name.” Almost as if on cue, the tiny tot began crying, wrenching the hearts of all the women who already did not want to let “their Buddy” go.

“Oh my God….no. He’s crying!” Evans exclaims on the video. “This is so heartbreaking.”

“It’s so sad,” Evans continued, as the corporal and the child drove away. “We’re watching them take him away,” she says as she continues filming the departing patrol vehicle until it turns south on Fairview Avenue, towards the sheriff’s station.

“Poor little dude…God bless him,” Evans emotionally said. “I just hope that baby gets in good hands.”

Before leaving the location with the tot, officials at the scene told neighbors to immediately call 911 if they saw or heard of anyone searching the neighborhood for their little boy.

As it turned out, it would be several hours before the parents of the child even realized their son was missing and frantically called 911 to report their son’s disappearance.

Social media used to spread the word of the child’s discovery

Over the next several hours, Evans wanted to do everything she could to try to help locate the boy’s parents and reunite them with their son. She contacted Hemet News, a local, social media group that provides news and information to its nearly 34,000 members, and asked for help spreading the word.

While speaking with Eddie George, the creator of the Facebook group, Evans said she was hoping either the parents or someone who recognized the boy in the video would be able to help the child make it safely back home.

The video was eventually taken down off the page after word spread that the boy’s parents had been found. That video, from Evans’ originally posted live stream, can be viewed below.

A family reunited

Sources close to the investigation later said the child’s parents were located nearly four hours after the boy was first spotted walking in the highway, when a frantic mother called 911 to report that her son was missing.

According to the source, after reuniting the child with his terrified but relieved parents, officials determined that in the middle of the night, the little boy had managed to somehow open the front door of the residence and walk away from the house while his father was asleep in bed and his mother was at work.

The mother reportedly told investigating officers that when she arrived home from work at about 3:30 a.m., she went to check on the baby as she always did when she got home.

It was then that the child’s parents first became aware their son was not in his bed and had disappeared.

In a panic, the mother woke up her husband, who had no idea that their son had gotten out of his bed in the middle of the night and managed to exit their residence while he was asleep.

The couple raced through their home searching for their son, to no avail. When they couldn’t locate their child inside the home, the mother desperately called 911 to report the little boy as missing.

It was then that the panic-stricken parents learned their child had been rescued from the busy and notoriously dangerous section of Highway 74.

The child and parents were reportedly reunited at the sheriff’s station.

Based on the nature of what could have turned into a tragic and deadly incident, CPS was contacted and had reportedly already visited the family’s home.

It was not immediately known if the little boy was left with his parents or taken into protective custody.

As of this initial, breaking story, an overnight request to the Riverside Sheriff’s Media Information Bureau had not yet been answered; however information was expected to be provided from sheriff’s officials when it becomes available.

This is a developing story. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.

Elizabeth Evans Facebook Live Stream video

 

Contact the writer: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

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Trevor Montgomery runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers, Valley News and Anza Valley Outlook and also writes for Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg and breaking his back in an off-duty accident.

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 26 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 12 – soon to be 13 – grandchildren.

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