Steven Cross

, Dakota County Sheriff's Department

Lakeville dad accused of abandoning son, 11, is arrested in California

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH
  • Star Tribune
  • August 30, 2011 - 5:36 PM

Steven Cross, the Lakeville father accused of abandoning his 11-year-old son to fend for himself, was arrested Monday in California.

Dakota County authorities said that Cross, who is to appear in court Wednesday in California, will be brought back to face child-neglect charges and, possibly, answer to a separate investigation into possible fraud, which is being probed by Lakeville police.

"The circumstances are extremely unusual, and they're disturbing," Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said Tuesday.

Working on information that Cross was working at a deli in Cambria, a small California coastal town, a patrol deputy with San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department spotted Cross' Ford Windstar van and stopped him for questioning on Monday.

"He was identified and taken into custody. There was no resistance," said department spokesman Rob Bryn.

Cross, 60, was booked into the county jail, and local authorities will begin the process to return him to Minnesota, where he is wanted on a warrant for gross misdemeanor child neglect of his son, Sebastian. Bryn said additional felony fraud charges are pending in Minnesota.

If Cross waives extradition in the desertion case, a deputy sheriff will fly out to pick up Cross, authorities said. If he chooses to fight extradition, a process involving the governors and attorneys general from both states will be started, and could take up to 90 days, Backstrom said.

Though it's a gross misdemeanor charge, it's important that Cross answer for the abandonment, Backstrom said. 

According to the criminal complaint in Dakota County, Sebastian awoke July 18 to discover he was alone. Cross, who had raised Sebastian alone since his son was 1, left the boy a letter saying he was gone and wouldn't be coming back.

Law enforcement officials tracked leads that Cross was in Cambria, an artist's community on the central California coast, about four miles south of the historic Hearst Castle.

Bryn said detectives canvassed the area last week but couldn't find Cross or his mini-van.

Bryn said Cross seemed to be living in his van and likely was enroute to work when he was stopped.

"We've been in constant contact with Minnesota detectives who were assigned to this case," Bryn said. "This was a coordinated arrest."

In a letter he left for his son, Cross wrote: "If this paper is wet it's because I am crying so bad. You know your dad loves you more than anything. This economy got [illegible] there are no jobs for architects so I have to go because the sherriff [sic] will take the house July 27th. There will be no more me. ... Some good news is your mother is still alive. Though I do not think it is for the best. Give these letters to [the neighbor]. Do not open them. I hope they get to give you a chance. There are many great years ahead for you. No so for me."

For years, Steven Cross had told Sebastian that his mother was dead because the father thought she was a poor role model.

As of last week, authorities didn't know the mother's whereabouts; she hadn't exercised her visiting privileges when a court suspended them in 2002.

Other letters that Cross left asked that Joanne and John Pahl, parents of Sebastian's friend, take care of him.

Sebastian, who is now staying with an aunt, spent several weeks with the Pahls while Dakota County child protection workers sought a place for him.

Joanne Pahl told police that Steven Cross' disappearance caught her off-guard, the complaint says. Cross had said nothing to her or her husband about transferring guardianship, according to investigators.

Reached Monday night at her Lakeville home, Joanne Pahl said she was glad to learn of Cross' arrest but did not wish to comment further.

According to the complaint against Steven Cross, he had written that he wanted to sell everything he owned to the Pahls for $1, with the idea that they could sell some of the possessions and establish a fund for Sebastian.

Cross' financial troubles include five civil judgments against him since 2007, owed to various financial institutions and totaling nearly $35,000, according to court records.

Sebastian said he last saw his father the night before he vanished and that there was no sign of what was to come.

In an e-mail to a former girlfriend that was later forwarded to Lakeville police, Cross wrote that he "had to walk away" from his son. "I drove to Carmel with nothing. I sleep on the street."

He wrote of his love for Sebastian and suggested that he had only a couple of days to live.

"I didn't know what to do," the e-mail said. "I am scared and hopelessly depressed."

Staff writers Pamela Miller, Paul Walsh and Joy Powell contributed to this report. Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788


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