11-year-old hops a cab, found safe in Georgia

An 11-year-old Bryant girl is back home with her parents after running away from her grandmother's house last Friday and taking a nearly 500-mile cab ride to Georgia.

The girl's father, Brent Waller of Bryant, said he's just thrilled the family's only child is home. But he and law enforcement officials wonder how an 11-year-old ended up in a Little Rock Yellow Cab on Interstate 20 in rural Georgia, west of Atlanta, on her way to Jacksonville, Fla.

"You embrace the fact she's alive, and you love her and know you have the rest of your life to gripe at her," Waller said. "We were just happy to lay eyes on her again. You put all those frustrations on the back burner.

"But I was surprised. Astonished. You wouldn't think this would be possible."

The cab, which picked the girl up at a west Little Rock doughnut shop in the early hours of Dec. 5, was stopped in Georgia about 1:15 p.m. EST that day, after the Bryant Police Department, working with Yellow Cab, notified the Georgia State Patrol that the cab carrying the girl was entering the state.

Bryant police, who posted an item about the case Thursday on Facebook, said they received a call about 9 a.m. Dec. 5 from the girl's parents who said their child had run away from her grandmother's house, where the girl was staying. After obtaining cellphone records, police learned the girl had started making calls about 3 a.m., including to a 16-year-old boy in Jacksonville, Fla., along with calls to Conway and Little Rock. The boy told police he'd spoken to the girl but didn't know her whereabouts. The Conway number was a dead end. Then, police learned the Little Rock call was to Yellow Cab.

According to Bryant police, detectives contacted the cab company and its dispatch center confirmed a driver had been sent to Shipley Do-Nuts at 8523 W. Markham St. at 3:30 a.m. to take a passenger to Jacksonville, Fla. Police said the girl paid the cabdriver $1,300 up front for the approximately $2,500 trip with money stolen from her grandmother.

Ellis Houston, a managing partner with Greater Little Rock Transportation Services, which operates Little Rock Yellow Cab, said long-distance fares don't happen everyday but are not unusual. The trip went through dispatch and appeared "legit," he said.

"The driver went and picked the young lady up and according to the information that I have, she was in a sweatsuit with a lot of makeup on and she looked like she was 17 or 18 years old," Houston said. "As soon as we found out about it, we cooperated fully. The driver was released without charges."

Houston said that the driver is not facing disciplinary action from Yellow Cab. "Maybe he lacked a little bit of judgment, but he didn't do anything that is reason for terminating his contract or anything like that," he said.

Bryant Police Chief Mark Kizer said he believes the cabdriver should face some sort of criminal charges, if only a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a minor. Charging the driver with a crime is a decision for Little Rock police, Kizer said.

A call seeking comment from the Little Rock Police Department was not returned.

The girl's grandmother has elected not to press charges against her granddaughter in the theft, Bryant Police Department spokesman Sgt. Todd Crowson said.

Crowson said the girl traveled from Bryant to Little Rock after hitching a ride at a gas station at 2400 Springhill Road in Bryant, but police are not searching for that driver for any criminal wrongdoing "because once she got to Little Rock, I don't think he had any more contact with her."

After being told their daughter was safe, the Wallers drove to the Carroll County sheriff's office in Carrollton, Ga., where they were reunited with her about 2 a.m. EST Saturday.

Brent Waller said his daughter had met the 16-year-old boy on a vacation with her grandmother to Daytona Beach two years ago. "Supposedly, she says she was going to spend time with him," Waller said. "She says he knew she was coming; he says he didn't know."

Bryant police are in contact with authorities in Florida, as the investigation is ongoing, but Kizer said it doesn't appear the Jacksonville boy will face charges either.

"There really wasn't a crime broken by the guy in Florida," he said. "It's really, really sticky. The child wasn't kidnapped. But with an adult picking her up and taking her anywhere she shouldn't be, it's kind of a gray area.

"One side of me thinks the cabdriver did wrong, but then the other side thinks at least she met somebody who wasn't completely evil."

As for his daughter's punishment, more is on the way, but Waller said her phone and makeup have already been taken away.

Metro on 12/12/2014