Charges considered against mother in stolen car, baby case

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 11, 1999

A car reported stolen with a nine-month-old baby sleeping inside has been recovered.

Thursday, November 11, 1999

A car reported stolen with a nine-month-old baby sleeping inside has been recovered.

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Although the car thieves left the baby behind before taking the vehicle, there are conflicting stories about the length of time the baby was left sleeping inside an unlocked motor vehicle with its motor running, meaning possible child endangerment charges could be filed, according to authorities.

Two male juveniles, staying at Austin foster homes, are in custody in Jackson County after they attempted to elude Lakefield police early Wednesday morning and were caught.

One of the juveniles, age 17, is from Kiester. The other, age 16, is from Jackson, a small town in Jackson County.

The Lakefield chief of police pursued the pair driving a white car reported stolen in Mower County and seen by the peace officer driving erratically down Lakefield’s main street near 12:50 a.m. Wednesday.

The vehicle was pursued and the chase involved Jackson County Sheriff’s Department deputies and Minnesota State Patrol officers before the car was stopped and the juveniles arrested after a brief foot chase.

The car, registered to Chris Thurnau of Austin was borrowed with permission by Sheree L. Tufte Tuesday evening.

The 24-year-old woman drove Thurnau white 1989 Chevrolet Cavalier to Western Manor Apartments, 2700 3rd Ave. SW to visit a female friend.

She exited the vehicle and took a 4-year-old son into the complex with her leaving a nine-month-old baby in the car with the vehicle’s doors unlocked and the engine running.

Tufte originally told Austin Police Department investigators, she left the baby unattended for only a few minutes.

When she returned to the parking lot and found the car missing, she went back inside her friend’s Western Manor Apartments unit and called Austin police at 8:26 p.m. Tuesday, according to police logs at the Austin-Mower County Law Enforcement Center.

The baby was found unharmed, but crying, minutes later on a landing outside another apartment in another Western Manor Apartments unit. A Western Manor Apartments tenant, Juanita Gehring told police she heard a baby’s cries and discovered the child lying on a floor in a hallway. Gehring was not the person Tufte was visiting, as was earlier reported in the Austin Daily Herald.

Early interviews with the two male juveniles, who stole the Thurnau car driven by Tufte hint at conflicting stories.

According to Austin police, one of the teenage boys said the pair waited outside Western Manor Apartments for "almost an hour" watching for an opportunity to take the white Chevrolet Cavalier after the driver left it running in a parking lot. Because there were other unidentified individuals in the vicinity, the car thieves had to wait until they were undetected before making their move.

The juvenile said they took the child out of the car immediately upon discovering it in the vehicle and returned it to the nearest apartment unit to the parking lot before returning to the car and speeding away.

Second interviews with Tufte also revealed changes in her story, according to the police account of the exchange between the woman and detectives. Tufte told detectives she made two telephone calls from a friend’s apartment and while making the calls the friend went outside to check on her baby.

Austin Police Chief Paul M. Philipp, "Detectives say that would be logistically impossible to do in the time frame she gave us."

The juveniles face charges of fleeing a police officer, possession of stolen property and minor consuming in Jackson County and more questioning when they return to Mower County and face Austin Police Department investigators.

The biological father of the nine-month-old child was interviewed on an area television station alleging child endangerment charges are necessary.

According to police, he went to the Mower County Department of Human Services to ask for their assistance in protecting the child.

The father also asked for the Austin Police Department’s assistance Wednesday, when he went to a residence shared by he and the mother and attempted to remove personal possessions.

According to Police Chief Philipp, "We will wait and see what comes back from additional interviews in this case."

At this time, both the 4-year-old boy and the nine-month-old boy remain with their mother.