A 22-year-old man was arrested in Tarrant County on Tuesday and briefly held in the Saginaw Jail, accused of abandoning his 4-year-old son along a West Texas highway the day before.
The injured boy, Angel, spent several hours alone in the dark before a passing motorist picked him up on Interstate 20 near Sweetwater early Tuesday.
The boy's father, Carlos Rico of Lubbock, was booked into the Saginaw Jail on Tuesday and transferred Wednesday to the Nolan County Jail in Sweetwater, about 40 miles west of Abilene. He was charged with child endangerment and was held with bail set at $50,000. He could face additional charges, authorities said.
Authorities said Angel -- who was abandoned about 122 miles from home and wandered alone for about three hours -- was rescued by Sweetwater High School basketball coach Al Hunt and his son, Michael. They were heading to a golf tournament in Eastland at about 6 a.m. Tuesday when they saw the boy along the eastbound side of the four-lane highway.
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"He was just standing still," said Al Hunt, 54. "Two 18-wheelers coming by side by side just missed him. If one of those trucks had gone off to the side a little, or if the boy had moved a few feet, he would probably have been hit right there.
"My heartbeat was racing. The good Lord was watching over that little angel."
'Like a bag of garbage'
Hunt stopped and picked up the child, who was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, shorts and shoes, and carried him back to his vehicle. He tried unsuccessfully to get the boy to talk to him while his son dialed 911.
When he asked the child his age, the boy held up four fingers.
The Hunts "stopped and grabbed him and called us. Thank goodness they happened by right when they did. Who knows what could have happened," Sweetwater Police Chief Jim Kelley told the Abilene Reporter-News.
Kelley said the boy had bruises and "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of cactus spines, covering him from head to toe." He said doctors removed at least 500 spines from the child's body.
On Tuesday, Sweetwater police received a call from the Saginaw police. A relative of Rico's in Saginaw reportedly called when Rico showed up to see him without his son. Police said they learned that Rico had left Angel on the side of the road while driving from Lubbock to Saginaw.
"From talking with the Saginaw police throughout the day, we were able to piece it together," Kelley told the Reporter-News. "Around 3 a.m., the father stopped and threw the boy out of the car like a bag of garbage."
According to news accounts, Kelley said Rico told Saginaw investigators that God told him to choke the boy and expel him from the car. Bruising was found on the child's throat, the police chief said.
The boy's stepmother, who lives in Lubbock, was notified, and joined Angel at Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital in Sweetwater. Hunt said his wife had planned to visit Angel at the hospital Wednesday but was told he had been released. The boy was in the custody of state Child Protective Services late Wednesday.
Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for the agency, told The Associated Press that the family has no history of abuse. She said a custody hearing is set for July 7.
This report includes material from The Associated Press and the Abilene Reporter-News.
Marty Sabota, 817-390-7367