ELTOPIA — A 4-year-old boy who wandered away from his aunt's house near Eltopia, crawled under a barbed wire fence and crossed four lanes of Highway 395 is home safe with his family thanks to a trucker who looked a little like Santa Claus.
The boy got about a mile away while his aunt was taking a shower, but other than some scrapes on his hands and cuts on his pants, he was found and kept safe by a passing truck driver, said Washington State Patrol Trooper Robert Lamay.
"God was watching over this little guy," Lamay said. "It could have been pretty bad."
It was about 2 p.m. Tuesday when the boy, wearing jeans and a red shirt, was found walking on the highway. There was heavy truck and other vehicle traffic and low spots in the median, so some drivers didn't even see him, Lamay said.
Fortunately, Dan Barton of Portland, who drives for KKW Trucking in Pomona, Calif., spotted him. Barton had picked up a load of paper Tuesday morning in Usk, about 50 miles north of Spokane, and was heading to Marysville, Calif.
He was going south on Highway 395 about a mile south of the Eltopia exit when traffic suddenly stopped and Barton couldn't figure out why.
"I looked to my left and saw this little boy running in the median away from traffic," Barton told the Herald. "I opened my door and kind of waved him over to me. I didn't expect it, I thought he'd just run past me, but he stopped. I picked him up and put him in the truck to just get him out of the danger -- out of the traffic."
Then everybody drove off and Barton was left on the side of the road with a little kid.
"It was a very strange experience," he said.
The boy, who spoke only Spanish, told Barton he was 4 -- almost 5 -- but when Barton asked where his mother was, Barton couldn't understand the answer.
Barton then called 911 and his trucking company dispatcher, who also speaks Spanish, and had the dispatcher ask the boy some questions to try to figure out what was going on.
"His hands were kind of cut up, I think he had fallen down. I sprayed his hands with a bottle of hydrogen peroxide mixed with water. ... He seemed to be afraid but not terrible afraid," Barton said. "I was very surprised he was trusting me."
In fact, Barton said when he first saw him, the boy was running away from everybody and he was surprised the boy came to him.
"I have been accused of looking just like Santa," he said. "I have a white beard and glasses that look like Santa glasses."
Lamay agreed Barton resembles Santa and admitted he kind of chuckled when he first saw Barton. He said the trucker and his company deserves credit for going out of their way to take care of the lost boy.
"For truck drivers, time is money. Sitting on the road and doing what he did is well beyond what is normally done these days," the trooper said.
The boy, whose name was not released, was turned over to Child Protective Services and reunited with his family. The agency will investigate the incident, but Lamay said no citations were issued to the boy's aunt, who was watching her nephew while his mother was in Spokane.
Barton, who got back on the road before everything was resolved, said he figured the boy had just wandered away, but was glad to hear he got back safely to his family.
"He's such a charming little boy," Barton said. "I hope he stays put for a while."
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org