Fayette County

Store manager charged with failing to help child

Police have charged a Bed Bath & Beyond manager who allegedly refused to help a Danville couple trying to contact police after discovering a child locked in a hot van Saturday.

Lexington police Officer Tommy Puckett said Thursday that Elizabeth A. Miller, 34, of Richmond was issued a summons for duty to report dependency, neglect and abuse, a Class B misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 90 days and a maximum fine of $250.

A court date for Miller has not been set.

Miller could not be reached for comment.

First Assistant Fayette County Attorney Brian Mattone told the Herald-Leader Thursday that under the statute, everyone has the duty to report dependency, neglect and abuse of a child if they have knowledge of it. He said prosecutors thought that Miller, through witnesses, had knowledge of possible abuse or neglect. Moreover, there is language in the statute stating that "nothing should relieve their obligation to report," Mattone said.

Miller told witnesses and Puckett Saturday that it was the company's policy not to get involved in any activity in the parking lot.

Randy and Nancy Belcher were at the Bed, Bath & Beyond off Nicholasville Road on Saturday when Nancy Belcher noticed that there was a boy in the van parked next to their vehicle. The boy, who was wearing long sleeves and was covered with a blanket, did not respond to repeated knocks on the van's windows, Randy Belcher said.

Because of where the van was parked, the Belchers thought that the parent was probably in Bed Bath & Beyond.

The Belchers went into the housewares store and were referred to Miller, who told the Belchers that it was against store policy to get involved with anything happening in the store's parking lot, Randy Belcher said. The Belchers said Miller would not let them use the phone or make an announcement over the store's public-address system to alert the mother or parent that the child was in distress. The Belchers then returned to their vehicle — where their cell phone was locked inside — and called police. Others in the parking lot had also called police.

Police were able to remove Ryan Patel, 3, from the van by breaking the window. He was treated at the scene for dehydration. His mother, Tanuja Patel, was arrested and charged with first-degree wanton endangerment. She pleaded not guilty Monday.

Patel's lawyer has said the mother thought the car was running when she left the toddler in the car.

A spokesman for Bed Bath & Beyond told the Herald-Leader on Monday that there is not a store policy banning employees from helping someone in its parking lots, and that the national chain was disappointed that the situation was not handled properly.

But it appears that Miller was not the only employee who thought store policy was not to call police. Debbie Price said she was shopping at the Bed Bath & Beyond store in Hamburg Pavilion last August when she was told something similar by a Bed Bath & Beyond employee. Price said Thursday that she had seen a dog — a small terrier mix — inside a car in the parking lot. The dog was lethargic and failed to respond to taps on the window, she said. Price said she went inside and asked a Bed Bath & Beyond employee whether she could use the phone to call police, and the employee told her that it was against store policy to get involved or call police.

"She was very apologetic about it," Price recalled.

Price said that by the time she got out to the parking lot, the car's owner was on her way to her vehicle.

Officials with Bed Bath & Beyond did not respond to e-mail and phone requests Thursday seeking comment.

Hank Reinhart, a vice president at Bed Bath & Beyond, said Monday, after repeated questions about the store's policy regarding its parking lots, that there was no policy that would prevent store managers from helping someone in distress. Reinhart said the store was retraining its employees after what happened Saturday.

Mattone said Thursday that the county attorney's office has researched the failure-to-report law extensively since Saturday. He said other states have successfully prosecuted people for failing to act on information that a child was in danger. It's unclear whether a similar charge has been used in Kentucky.

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