OGDEN, Utah – An 8-year-old Utah boy made sure he and his 5-year-old sister buckled up before heading out on a middle-of-the-night drive in their mother's minivan, but they didn't get far.
The boy, who couldn't even see above the steering wheel, made it just a few hundred feet before crashing the vehicle into a line of trees along the Ogden River, about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City.
No one was injured and the children were returned to a stunned mother who awoke to police officers in her apartment at about 2 a.m. Thursday, authorities said.
"They had just come out of the driveway, went across both lanes, then hit those trees," said Ogden police Lt. Danielle Croyle. "It could have been much worse if they didn't have their seatbelts on. They were just too smart for their own good."
Authorities didn't identify the mother, and she did not answer her door on Thursday. No telephone number was listed for her.
Croyle said police have no previous history with the woman or her children, and neglect was not an issue. She called it an accident and said no charges were pending.
Witnesses said it was a shock.
"It was crazy," said Justine McDonald, 18, who heard the crash and ran outside with a friend to help.
"They looked a little freaked out. The kids just kept saying they were happy to be alive," McDonald said. "I said, `Where's your mommy and daddy? Are they still in the car?' But she was at home asleep."
The young boy told Ogden police that his sister wanted to go to the store, so he grabbed the keys and headed out with his mother asleep in another room.
Several witnesses called 911 to report the crash.
"This kid wasn't even tall enough to see above the steering wheel," said neighbor Holly Maxwell, who also ran across the street to help. "They were worried their mother was going to be mad at them."
The 25-year-old said she held the little girl's hand and walked with police back to their apartment, along with McDonald.
An officer knocked repeatedly on the woman's door, then walked in, McDonald said.
"He called her name like four or five times," she said.
The woman eventually walked out from a back room.
"Did you know your kids took a joyride in your car?" McDonald said the officer asked the mother. "She just rubbed her head."