GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. – How long does it take to become a hero? For police in Southeast Georgia on Wednesday night, the answer was just a little over half an hour.
Wednesday just after 7 p.m. as officers were working a vehicle crash on Highway 17 South near Fletcher Fish Camp Road when they heard a woman screaming from outside the Friendly Express gas station. They discovered her SUV had been stolen with her 2-year-old daughter inside while the mother was in the store.
Investigators said the woman had gone inside and left her SUV running outside the convenience store with the child alone.
Glynn-Brunswick 911 Dispatch sent an immediate alert to all surrounding agencies and Glynn County, Georgia State Patrol, and Camden County Sheriff’s deputies “began to saturate the area,” according to a news release from the Glynn County Police Department.
Police said the man was quickly identified using the store’s surveillance video. Detectives learned the man, later identified as John Alba, 27, lives in Camden County. They had already been looking for him after accusing him of stealing a tip jar from an area Dunkin’ Donuts. When Camden County deputies went to Alba’s home Wednesday evening, they did not find him.
But at 7:43, 36 minutes after the search for the child began, the stolen vehicle was spotted in Camden County, just south of the county line. Deputies said Alba took police on a chase, crossing back into Glynn County, but it quickly ended when the vehicle ran off the road into a ditch and became stuck at Buck Swamp Road.
Alba ran from police, but officers were able to take him into custody even as he bit one officer and was resisting, a Glynn County Police Department spokesperson said.
After his arrest, he claimed he was on medication for depression and anxiety and used marijuana. He said he didn’t know why he stole the SUV and didn’t know there was a child in the back.
The child wasn’t hurt and reunited with the mother at the gas station.
Alba was taken to Southeast Georgia Health Systems-Brunswick Campus and was booked at the Glynn County Detention Center on charges of theft by taking and kidnapping.
The Camden County Sheriff’s Office provided the following statement to News4Jax:
Camden County Sheriff Jim Proctor applauds the efforts of all first responders, 911 operators, and law enforcement agencies involved with the successful conclusion of this incident.
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said leaving a child unattended in a vehicle is not only dangerous, but it could also be criminal.
“You never want to leave a child in the car by themselves, especially with the car running,” he said. “Do not leave children in cars alone. Because this is what could happen. It’s just an open invitation for a person like this guy to do what he did.”
Investigators did not say if the child’s mother could face charges in this case.
According to KidsandCars.org, a child safety organization, Florida has a law against leaving young children unattended in a vehicle. In Georgia, where the incident happened, there is no specific law, although legislation has been proposed.