8-year-old hits the road, safely

EAST PALESTINE — An 8-year-old East Palestine boy used YouTube videos to learn how to drive his father’s van to McDonald’s on Sunday.

East Palestine Patrolman Jacob Koehler responded to the restaurant that evening after the police department received reports from several people who witnessed the boy driving the van effortlessly through the downtown area.

Koehler said that according to reports from witnesses Matt Stanley, David and Rachel Crowe and Lindsey Balmenti, the boy obeyed all traffic laws, stopping properly at red lights and waited for traffic to pass before making the left turn into the McDonald’s parking lot.

When he pulled up to the drive-through window after ordering a cheeseburger he had been craving and intended to pay for using money he gathered from his piggy bank, the McDonald’s workers at first thought they were being pranked.

“The workers thought that the parents were in the back, but obviously they weren’t,” Koehler said.

The boy had his 4-year-old sister along as a passenger. Their parents were back at home asleep after a long day of playing with the children outside in the beautiful Sunday weather, Koehler said.

“I think there is a good teaching point here. With the way technology is anymore kids will learn how to do anything and everything. This kid learned how to drive on YouTube. He probably looked it up for five minutes and then said it was time to go,” he added.

He went on to say that he was impressed with the boy’s driving abilities, and that when he first received the call he was prepared to receive other calls from people reporting damage to their mailboxes or garbage bins from a wayward vehicle.

“He didn’t hit a single thing on the way there. It was unreal,” he said.

The boy drove about a mile and a half from his home to the restaurant shortly after 8 p.m.

The boy told Koehler that he had never driven before, but had learned by watching the videos. He also said that he was able to get the keys to his father’s locked van by standing up on his tip-toes to get to where they were hanging.

The boy, in tears when he realized he had done something wrong, told Koehler he just really wanted a cheeseburger.

Koehler said it was not a case of neglect — the boy and his sister had already eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner that day, but he still really wanted that cheeseburger.

The boy and his sister still got their meals of cheeseburger, chicken nuggets and fries while they waited for their grandparents to arrive and take them to the police station.

“A friend of the family saw what was going on and called the grandparents,” Koehler said.

The children were picked up by their parents at the station and no charges were filed.


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