Van stolen, returned after baby discovered in back seat, police say

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SALT LAKE CITY — A woman was arrested after allegedly stealing a vehicle, only to return it when she realized a toddler was inside the van.

Tuesday morning, Juana Marie Valdez, 27, stole an unattended van that was warming up near 800 West and 800 South, outside of a business police said. After a few minutes, Valdez returned the van to its owner after discovering a toddler in the back seat of the van.

"The suspect saw the (child), stated to officers post-Miranda that the child was in the car and that's why she brought it back," detective Veronica Montoya said.

Valdez intended to take the car to her father's house, according to the probable cause statement.

The father of the child, Jose Rubao, said he was preparing to take his son to daycare and had left the vehicle to grab the boy's blanket from inside his business. He returned to find the van and his son gone.

"I was thinking I would not see my baby anymore. I was so scared," Rubao said.

He looked to see where the van had gone when the van and Valdez returned, he said.

"I heard something about she (said) she saw the baby and she felt bad. That's what I heard she (said)," Rubao said.

As someone took Emanuel inside Rubao's cab company, a waiting cab customer held onto the woman until police arrived about two minutes later.

I heard something about she (said) she saw the baby and she felt bad. That's what I heard she (said).

–Jose Rubao

Salt Lake City Police Department responded to the theft, arresting Valdez on suspicion of possession of a stolen vehicle.

Police used the case to remind the public not to leave cars running unattended. SLCPD has started a campaign warning people of the dangers of doing so, especially with children inside the vehicle.

The alleged theft happened on the same day that a petition for child custody was filed against Valdez, according to 3rd District Court records.

Court records show Valdez had a number of cases filed against her in late 2006 through 2007. She was found guilty of misdemeanor drug possession in one case and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia in another in 2006; felony drug possession, misdemeanor obstruction of justice and giving false information to a police officer, a misdemeanor in February of 2007; as well as unlawful control of a vehicle used in a felony in October of 2007, a misdemeanor, according to court records.

Contributing: Pat Reavy and Sandra Yi


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