Police: 8-year-old gets behind wheel of mother’s SUV, drives through Gastonia

GASTONIA, N.C. — Police said an 8-year-old boy got behind the wheel of an SUV and drove through Gastonia Tuesday night.

According to the authorities, the boy’s mother handed him the keys at around 9:40 p.m. and asked him to start the vehicle. He didn’t just start the SUV, but hit the gas and drove across town.

“There were two kids in the car and the car took off. We don’t know if somebody stole it or a kid drove off it in it,” the child’s mother could be heard saying in a frantic 911 call.

She told police she had given her keys to her son as they were leaving a relative’s house and that he was missing.

“As soon as we’ve seen him pull off, we tried to chase him down the road,” she told the 911 operator.

Rick Goodale with Gastonia police said that the 8-year-old left the house on Sherman Street and drove nearly two miles to his home on Lyon Street in Gastonia. He then left again.

Deputies spotted him behind the wheel on Salvatore Court and got him to stop.

“These roads that he traveled are not backcountry roads with no other cars. These are well-traveled roads in the city of Gastonia. This could have ended in tragedy,” Goodale said.

The mother, who didn’t want to be identified, said her son had never driven a car and that he “accidentally” put it in reverse. She said that when the SUV started moving, he put it in drive with a 1-year-old sibling in the back seat.

The child told Channel 9′s Gina Esposito that he got scared and drove in the middle of the road to avoid cars. He said he knew to stop at traffic lights because he watched his mom do it.

Goodale warns parents to never let their child behind the wheel.

“They are not fully aware of how a vehicle works. They don’t know how to put it in gear. They may run over a sibling. They may run over an adult. They may cause property damage,” Goodale said. “There are so many things that could have gone wrong in this incident and we’re very thankful that nothing did go wrong.”

Police said the 8-year-old isn’t facing charges, but that his mother could be investigated by the Department of Social Services for possible neglect.

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