Bus driver, riders help lost toddler
Child helped to safety; mother arrested twice
After 20 years behind the wheel of a TriMet bus, Martin McLendon knows how a sudden burst of summery weather will affect the sights and sounds along his route.
'You see the good, bad, ridiculous and funny,' he said on Tuesday. 'When it's a nice, sunny day you have to ask a lot of riders to please put their shirt on. You expect almost anything to come out of the sunshine.'
But an unaccompanied toddler wearing nothing but a designer diaper generally isn't one of them.
Yet that's indeed what he encountered during his TriMet 52 line run along Southwest 185th Avenue through Aloha on Monday afternoon, May 14. With all the pedestrian and bicycle activity on the sunny, unseasonably warm day, the longtime Beaverton resident initially assumed the child had briefly slipped away from a nearby parent.
'On a day when it's 90 degrees, it doesn't strike you right off the bat,' he said of the pint-sized vision by the road, 'until I realized there was not another adult around.'
McLendon stopped the bus, kept the child out of harm's way and called 911. Before authorities could arrive, the girl's mother, Alexandria Watkins, arrived and picked her up.
Unbeknownst to McLendon, 50, his simple, good Samaritan role was but one part of a larger, stranger narrative that culminated with Watkins being arrested and jailed twice in 24 hours on child-neglect accusations.
Washington County sheriff's deputies located Watkins, 23, at a nearby apartment complex and arrested her on an accusation of second-degree child neglect. Learning of two other incidents in the previous five days where the toddler had walked away from Watkins' Aloha residence, Department of Human Services officials placed the woman's children with a family member, said Sgt. Bob Ray, sheriff's office spokesman.
On Tuesday, May 15 - about 11 hours after Watkins was released from the Washington County jail and regained custody of her children - deputies were called back to the area.
A passer-by had found the same toddler - again unsupervised and wearing only a diaper - walking along her now familiar route of Southwest 185th Avenue.
Watkins was arrested a second time on a second-degree child neglect accusation and again lodged in the Washington County Jail, where she was held on $5,000 bail.
In his improbable encounter, McLendon described the little girl - who was wearing what he described as a 'designer' diaper but neither shoes nor shirt - as 'very happy, jovial,' when she walked up to the door of his bus.
'Finding a lost child, you don't want to leave or drive by,' he confessed. 'She knew quite a few words, but was not a conversationalist. She was a pretty energetic young gal and didn't seem to want to leave the sidewalk.'
Recruiting a few bus riders to check nearby houses, the operator radioed to the TriMet Merlo bus garage to request 911 assistance as well as permission to leave the bus.
'I went to one house, and the other customers went to other houses,' he said.
The riders on the route were sympathetic to the situation.
'That's the nice thing about the afternoon crowd. If it had been the morning, it would be a whole different atmosphere with people piping up about missing work or missing this or that. In the afternoon, they're a little lower key going home,' he said.
Finding no parents at nearby residences, the ad hoc search party returned to the bus, while the toddler busied herself in the driver's seat. Within about 10 minutes, her mother arrived.
'She was very relieved and happy to claim the child,' McLendon said. 'We were all happy they were reunited. No one passed any judgment.'
No one on the bus, perhaps, but investigating sheriff's deputies believed Watkins had made no attempts to maintain supervision of her child to keep her safe, Ray said of her second arrest.
McLendon said he didn't feel stopping to help the little girl fell outside the realm of his work duties.
'You've always got to be aware of your surroundings and check it out if something doesn't look right,' he said. 'It's not just about getting the bus from point A to point B. It's about being part of the community.
'It would have been a positive experience,' he added, 'if the mom didn't have to be facing all these charges.'