Seventh child found in car in Parx Casino lot

Alexander Salter Jr. leaves the Bensalem police station after being arraigned for leaving his grandson, 12, in a car outside the Parx casino. Afternoon temperatures reached 94 degrees.
Alexander Salter Jr. leaves the Bensalem police station after being arraigned for leaving his grandson, 12, in a car outside the Parx casino. Afternoon temperatures reached 94 degrees.
Posted: September 03, 2010

The timing was horrible.

Or perfect, depending on your agenda.

At noon Thursday, state and local officials had called a news conference in Bensalem to address ways of ending a recent outbreak of adults leaving children alone in vehicles outside the Parx Casino there. Six such incidents had been reported since June 15, resulting in four arrests.

Less than three hours after the media event ended, a seventh child was found alone in the Parx lot.

This time it was a gambling grandfather who was charged with leaving his 12-year-old grandson in a sweltering SUV on an afternoon when the temperature reached 94 degrees at Philadelphia International Airport.

Bensalem police charged Alexander Salter Jr., 60, of Trenton, with endangering the welfare of a child. According to court records, he had left his grandson at 3:05 p.m. for about a half-hour.

"No air was on," Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran said. "No keys in the car. No water."

In the meantime, according to one of the investigators, Sgt. Andrew Aninsman, Salter had won about $100 playing slots.

"That's going to be nowhere near what he's going to need for his lawyer's fees," Aninsman said.

"I don't understand it," an incredulous Harran said late Thursday. "It's been all over the media. How people aren't wise to it . . . 24 years I've been doing this job, I can't figure people out."

Salter had been watching his grandson while the boy's mother was at work, Aninsman said. A mechanic, he had arranged to meet a customer at the casino lot.

With 20 minutes to kill, he decided to play the slots, parking his car illegally, Aninsman said. That drew the attention of casino security, who discovered the youth and called police.

"This is a hot day. Grandpa was inside, gambling away," said Bucks County District Attorney David W. Heckler, whose office approved the charges against Salter.

Salter was arraigned Thursday night via video conference and released on $25,000 unsecured bail. He refused to comment afterward.

"You take any person, sit them in a car with the windows down for a half-hour in 90-plus-degree weather and you tell me how you feel," Aninsman said. "The child is fine . . . Mr. Salter is very upset; he knows he did wrong."

For Parx officials, some of whom had just finished touting new security measures at the news conference, it was another public relations bust.

"This is being handled by the police department," Parx spokeswoman Carrie Nork Minelli said in an e-mail. "We are not releasing any personal information - the man has been evicted from the casino and will no longer be admitted at any time."

But for two state legislators from Bensalem - who want such behavior prosecuted as a felony - the arrest aptly underscored the urgency they had declared to reporters.

"We were all shocked when we first heard of these incidents," State Sen. Robert M. Tomlinson (R., Bucks) told reporters just hours before Salter's arrest. "When we learned there were several more, we were even more shocked and couldn't believe what we were hearing."

Tomlinson and State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, a fellow Bucks County Republican, called the news conference to announce plans to boost the penalties for such behavior.

They said they intended to introduce legislation making it a third-degree felony to endanger the welfare of a child under 13 by leaving the child in a vehicle unattended by an adult.

Under current law, endangering the welfare of a child is a first-degree misdemeanor. The bill would increase the maximum sentence from five years to seven years for anyone leaving a child in a car.

The legislators' proposal would have applied to Thursday's case, and at least five of the other incidents also involved children under 13 - one of them 15 months old - who were left behind while their parents gambled at Parx.

None of the children has been seriously harmed, or other charges could have come into play.

Last summer, involuntary manslaughter charges were filed against Rimma Shvartsman, a Penndel day-care owner who fatally forgot a 2-year-old boy in her van. A jury later acquitted her, deciding that the death had not resulted from an intentional criminal act.

Last month, Heckler's office filed first-degree felony neglect charges against a caregiver who left a 20-year-old man for five hours inside a locked van July 24. Bryan Nevins, whose severe autism rendered him unable to escape, died inside the van on a 97-degree afternoon.

Heckler called Tomlinson's and DiGirolamo's proposed bill "a rational response" that "doesn't restrict the court's ability to fashion an appropriate sentence in each case. And to the extent that it calls people's attention to the utter unacceptability of this behavior, fine by me."

At the news conference, Thomas Bonner, the casino's general counsel, said Parx supported the legislation. The casino, he said, has erected signs warning against leaving children unattended, and has encouraged patrons to report any children seen there. It also has doubled the number of surveillance cameras in the parking lot and has increased security patrols, particularly during the casino's busiest times.

"One child left unattended is too many," Bonner said. "We want to make sure it doesn't happen again."


Contact staff writer Larry King at 215-345-0446 or lking@phillynews.com.

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