Sobbing boy seeks help in St. Paul; dad charged with DWI

Homeowner found boy wandering in the street near car. St. Paul driver's blood alcohol amount was more than 3 times the legal limit for driving, charges say.

Christian Damon Derek Stoner

The 5-year-old boy was alone, hungry and scared when a homeowner spotted him in the middle of the street in St. Paul's Macalester-Groveland neighborhood after dark Tuesday.

He needed help, he said, because his father was inside a vehicle in the street, refusing to take the boy and his 1-year-old sister home, authorities said later.

Police arrived to find Christian Damon Derek Stoner, 40, of St. Paul, sitting barefoot on the vehicle's center console with an empty alcohol bottle near his shoes on the driver's side floorboard. Inside the vehicle, too, were the son and Stoner's daughter. Both had been crying, police said.

A preliminary breath test put Stoner's blood alcohol level at 0.289 percent, or more than three times the legal limit for driving, according to a drunken-driving charge filed against him Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court.

The homeowner who called police to the 1900 block of Palace Avenue spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fear for her safety. She had been visiting neighbors and was walking back home when she saw movement in a Jeep that had parked in front of her house. She watched a boy get out on the driver's side and run up and down the sidewalk "crying and screaming," she said.

The boy got back in the Jeep. The homeowner, pretending to get something out of her car, walked near enough to the Jeep to get the license plate.

She saw far more than its letters and number. She heard a male voice, and a baby crying. She looked inside the car and saw a large man with his feet on the console.

"He was flexing them -- no boots, no shoes," the homeowner said. "I thought, something's wrong here."

She watched from her steps as the boy got out of the vehicle and once again ran along the sidewalk, crying and screaming. When he ran into the street, the homeowner called out to him to stay out of the street because it was not safe.

"He was beside himself. I asked if he was OK, and he said no," the homeowner said. "I asked, 'Do you need help?' He said yes."

The boy told her that his father would not take him to his mother's house. The homeowner asked the boy for his mother's phone number.

He "was crying so hard that I could not understand him," she said, choking up herself as she told her story.

While waiting for police to arrive, she stood with keys in one hand and cellphone in the other "in case he took off."

Police placed the boy in the back seat of the squad car until his mother showed up. "I was so worried about the kid sitting in the back of the squad; I knew he had to be terrified," she said. "I asked if I could sit with him, but the [police] said no."

The children were turned over to their mother after she was called to the scene, police spokesman Howie Padilla said Friday.

Stoner, swaying as he sat and struggling to keep his head still, "admitted that he had been driving the vehicle with his two children in it," the charges say.

The complaint made no mention of why the father had stopped.

Stoner, whose adult record consists only of a speeding offense, had no comment Friday when approached by a reporter outside his home.

According to the charges, the son told police that Stoner had picked up the children at day care and was driving around and pulling over in random places.

An officer found the boy in the front passenger seat and the sister in a car seat in the back. The key was in the ignition, but the vehicle wasn't running.

After administering the preliminary breath test, the officer abandoned additional field sobriety tests out of concern that Stoner would fall and hurt himself, the charges say.

He made his first court appearance Wednesday and is scheduled to appear again Jan. 27. He faces two charges -- third-degree driving while impaired and second-degree refusal to submit to a chemical test -- both gross misdemeanors.

alonetree@startribune.com • 612-875-0041 harlow@startribune.com • 651-925-5039

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