TRIADELPHIA - Stephen Robert Clemens was charged with felony child neglect Wednesday after an Ohio County sheriff's deputy found his 9-year-old stepson locked inside Clemens' sweltering car in a parking lot at The Highlands.
Ohio Co-unty Magistrate Harry Radcliffe arraigned Clemens, 25, of Wheeling, on a single count of child neglect risking serious injury. Clemens posted $20,000 bond and was released from the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville. A preliminary hearing had not yet been scheduled at press time.
A sheriff's deputy responded to a report of suspected shoplifting at Kohl's at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday. While waiting outside of the building, as directed by the store's loss prevention staff, a man approached the deputy.
"It's probably none of my business," the man reportedly told the deputy, "but there's a small child locked inside a car over there."
The deputy approached the Cadillac and saw the 9-year-old child attempting to hide behind the passenger's seat of the vehicle.
He knocked on the window and started talking with the boy. The juvenile said he was hiding because he was afraid someone would steal the car while he was inside of it.
According to court documents, the child was "covered in sweat. The boy's hair was soaked and large visible beads of sweat covered the child's face. The boy's shirt was also noticeably wet from sweat."
All of the vehicle's doors were locked and all of the windows were rolled up, except for the front passenger side window, which was cracked about two inches, court documents state. The child unlocked one of the doors and joined the deputy in his air-conditioned cruiser. The boy reportedly was scared that his mother was going to go to jail, and informed the deputy it was Clemens who locked him in the car.
At that time, the boy's mother, Jeanette Darnley, was seen running to the Cadillac. She told the deputy she did not know her son was locked in the car. Clemens reportedly told her he was going to wait in the car with the boy because the child was misbehaving inside the store.
The boy said he was locked inside the car for about 20 minutes and outdoor surveillance footage supports that claim. It was about 90 degrees on Wednesday, and a heat advisory was in effect for Ohio County, according to court documents.
Store personnel informed it was Darnley who was the suspected shoplifter that prompted them to call the sheriff's department. Darnley allegedly admitted she fraudulently returned unpurchased merchandise in exchange for a gift card. She will be charged with shoplifting, but was not taken into custody on Wednesday to prevent further stress to her son, documents state.