2010-09-09 / Local & State

Lawmakers Target Pa. Gamblers Leaving Kids In Cars

BENSALEM, Pa. (AP) –A pair of state legislators are proposing toughening the law barring parents from leaving children alone in cars following a number of cases in which children were found in cars parked at a suburban Philadelphia casino while adults were gambling inside.

Last week, a New Jersey man became the seventh person accused of leaving a minor in a car while he gambled at Parx Casino in Bensalem. Sixty-year-old Alexander Salter Jr., of Trenton, was charged Thursday with endangering the welfare of a child. Authorities allege that he left his 12-year-old grandson in an SUV for about a half-hour while he gambled.

A few hours earlier state lawmakers announced legislation that would make it a third-degree felony to leave a child younger than 13 in a car.

“This is a point of personal responsibility. This is a point of parenting,’’ said Sen. Robert Tomlinson, R-Bucks, who said he and Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, plan to introduce the legislation this month. “But also to get this message home, we need to increase the penalty ... We need a big hammer, and a big hammer is seven years in jail.’’

Under current law, leaving a child unattended in a car is a first-degree misdemeanor.

“It’s a tragedy waiting to happen,’’ said DiGirolamo, a father of four. “It’s just unconscionable to me that a parent or another caregiver could possibly think of leaving a child in the car to go gamble.’’

Between June 15 and Aug. 25, six parents have left a total of a dozen children – and one puppy – unattended in cars in casino parking lots. The children ranged from 15 months to 15 years old, and were left unsupervised anywhere from a half-hour to six hours.

The state Gaming Control Board last month warned the casino to fix the problem, and officials said that they have permanently banned those parents and increased patrols in parking lots. Parx has also doubled the number of lot security cameras and put in signs warning gamblers of arrest if they leave children in vehicles, vice president Tom Bonner said.

The board also criticized the Bensalem Police Department, which gets money from casino revenues to patrol outside.

“People have to wake up and be good parents; it’s not up to government to make people be good parents,’’ said Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran, who said the department had also increased patrols and he has taken to cruising the lots himself on his way home from work.

But the casino and department rejected other ideas such as putting in checkpoints to turn away vehicles that contain children. Bonner said the site has five entries, and besides children are permitted on the adjacent Philadelphia Park race horsetrack. He also nixed the idea of providing child care, saying casinos are no place for children.

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