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Charge in case of hot van reduced

A Fayette County grand jury Tuesday rejected a felony charge for a mother accused of leaving her child in a hot van outside of Bed Bath & Beyond, the mother's defense attorney said.

But the grand jury did indict Tanuja R. Patel, 37, on a misdemeanor charge of second-degree wanton endangerment, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in county jail.

Patel was charged Sept. 6 with first-degree wanton endangerment, which carries up to five years in prison. She was released from the Fayette County Detention Center after posting a $5,000 bond in cash.

Her lawyer, Fred Peters of Lexington, said he's pleased Patel's charge was reduced.

"I am not saying she should get off scot-free, but she did not deserve a felony," Peters said. "She made an error."

On Sept. 6, a couple from Danville noticed a 3-year-old boy sleeping in child seat in a locked Honda Odyssey van on a hot day in the parking lot of the Nicholasville Road store. The couple said they knocked on the window and he did not respond. The van was not running and the air conditioner was off, they said.

The couple asked a Bed Bath & Beyond manager if they could use the store's public-address system to alert the boy's mother. The manager allegedly refused to use the PA system or call police for help.

The couple later called police on their own. A police officer broke the driver's side window and rescued the boy, Ryan Patel, 3, who was not injured.

Peters says that Tanuja Patel thought she had left the van and its air conditioning on. The van had a remote starter, but Patel was not aware that the van turns off after 15 minutes if the keys are not in the ignition, he said.

Peters has said the boy went without air conditioning for only a few minutes. But witnesses estimate it was more like 30 minutes or more.

Patel testified in her defense to the grand jury, Peters said. Her husband also testified about the van's remote starter.

The Bed Bath & Beyond manager, Elizabeth A. Miller, has been charged with failure to report dependency, neglect and abuse. Miller has pleaded not guilty. Her case is pending.