HOUSTON - A day care van driver is speaking out and warning others after a stranger drove away with five children she left alone in a running vehicle.
Latonya Jackson owns JTD Transportation, a van service that transports children to and from various day care facilities. Jackson was driving her route Wednesday evening when she decided to stop and get food from a Jack-in-the-Box in the 8600 block of West Bellfort at South Gessner around 6 p.m.
She said after getting food, her 11-year-old son went back inside the restaurant. Moments later she went inside to get him, and seconds later, someone stole her van.
"I was telling him to come on and I turned around and opened the door, and when I opened the door to tell him to come on, the man jumped in my car," Jackson said.
The man, identified by Houston police as 24-year-old Brenton Alex Simmons, sped away with the children.
"He just was in full speed. Like, he didn't stop at all," Jackson said.
Jackson and the children were helpless.
"The man jumped in her car and drug her a little bit. She was hanging on until she fell off," a witness said.
Bobby Johnson was inside the restaurant when it all happened. After hearing the children scream, he ran outside and started chasing after the van on foot. Johnson pulled out his phone and called 911, but the two girls and three boys, all between 3 and 6 years old, were gone.
An Amber Alert was issued around 8:30 p.m. and authorities swept the area searching for the children. They used a GPS signal from a phone inside the vehicle to help pinpoint their location.
HPD homicide investigators, in coordination with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office and Harris County Precinct 5 deputy constables, located the suspect, children and stolen vehicle at 22300 Cinco Ranch Blvd. in Fort Bend County around 9:15 p.m.
With a round of cheers, applause and many hugs, the children were reunited with their parents Wednesday night.
"She will not be using any more bus services. It was the first time thing. It was her first day actually. For that to happen, just, it's traumatic," said mother Sonya Mims.
Her daughter, 3-year-old Paris Shiner, was in the SUV with four other young children when the vehicle was stolen Wednesday night.
"He was driving crazy," Shiner said. "He was going this way and this way and this way."
She told her mother that the oldest child got the SUV owner's cell phone and called 911 for help.
Houston police said the SUV's driver did not face any charges. However the city of Houston is investigating, saying private companies that provide transportation services within two miles of home to schools are required to register.
A city spokesperson said JTD Transportation is not registered with the city and is now under investigation.
Shiner's mother said parents need to investigate.
"Everyone that looks professional isn't professional. I mean looking at her, she looked like she was about business," said Mims.
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles told KPRC Local 2 that it does not regulate a transportation service like this. Only a commercial vehicle designed to hold more than 15 passengers, including the driver, fall under DMV regulations.
As for Jackson, she was very grateful the children were found safe.
"I just was caring about the lives of these kids because I have five of my own," she said.
Learning from her own mistake, she warns others about making those type of split-second decisions.
"Don't do it. Do not do it because you never know if you have kids' lives in your hands like that and valuable. It's a hurting feeling," she said.
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