OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — A Crestview man was arrested and charged with one count of child neglect after deputies said he asked a nine-year-old to drive him home nearly seven miles on Sunday, Oct. 9, according to a Facebook post from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.
Alexander Berrios, 22, asked the nine-year-old to drive him home and “had pointed out directions along the nearly seven-mile trip,” according to the post. Berrios was charged with one count of child neglect without great bodily harm.
According to the post, a witness saw a car entering Oak Hill Road from a neighborhood at around 8 a.m. Monday, Oct. 10 and “suspected the driver was impaired due to the vehicle being all over the roadway.”
The witness cut off the car near the intersection of Highway 85 and Old Bethel Road and saw there was a child behind the wheel. The witness told the child to get in the passenger seat and pulled the car into a Tom Thumb parking lot.
The nine-year-old told deputies Berrios asked him to drive him home. The child was on his way back “to his own residence alone,” and had traveled almost three miles before the witness intervened. The nine-year-old identified Berriors by picture and described Berrios’ appearance and name.
Berrios was at his residence off Brickhill Court and was interviewed by deputies. According to the arrest report, Berrios initially stated he did not know the child or the child’s mother. Berrios denied leaving his own residence at all the previous night or Monday and being at the child’s residence.
Berrios’ father gave deputies video of Berrios arriving home at around 7:43 a.m. at the back door. Video surveillance footage shows Berrios “walking up the road and driveway to the residence at around 7:42 a.m.”. Berrios was asked about the discrepancies in his story and responded with “I don’t know,” according to the arrest report.
Berrios told deputies he made a “mistake” but would not elaborate further. Berrios answered “I wouldn’t know” when he was asked why he did not wake up the child’s mother to drive him home.
The child’s mother told deputies she did not know the boy had left the home until deputies showed up at her home. The mother told deputies Berrios was at her house drinking alcohol the previous night. The mother said Berrios stayed the night and at “some point in the morning realized he was gone.”
According to the arrest report, the route from Opportunity Drive to Plum Orchard Road is approximately 6.8 miles. The child drove the car alone for nearly 2.8 miles.
“The defendant was responsible for the victim’s welfare,” read the report. “The defendant failed to provide adequate care and supervision.”
The arrest report said Berrios should have known the child was less than 18 years old and Berrios failed to make a reasonable effort to protect the victim [child] from neglect.
“We want to express our sincere gratitude to the witness who noticed something was wrong and intervened, potentially preventing a tragedy involving a child,” said Sheriff Aden.