A couple who left their two toddlers alone in a car on a Northwest Washington street while they attended a wine-tasting at an upscale restaurant was monitoring them with a cellphone left in the vehicle, law enforcement officials said Monday.
Police said the children — a 22-month-old boy and a slightly older girl — were strapped in car seats and wearing coats when they were found Saturday afternoon near the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, in the 1100 block of 23rd Street NW. Neither child had gloves or a hat, police said, and the younger one did not have shoes or socks. The girl was “hysterically crying,” according to a police report.
The temperature was 35 degrees, and police said the doors were locked and the windows were rolled up. Police said the father and mother were at the restaurant Ris, about 400 feet around the corner, in the 2200 block of L Street. The father, Christopher Daniel Lucas, who also goes by Christophe, told police that he left an iPhone in the car with an open connection to the children’s mother, Jennie Teresa Chang. The restaurant’s manager told police that the couple was at a wine tasting for about an hour, according to a police report.
“I left to go inside the restaurant,” Lucas said, according to the report, “but I’m watching them.” Police said the phone line had been open 58 minutes when officers arrived and got the children out of the gray Volvo station wagon and into a warm police car.
Lucas, 41, and Chang, 46, who live in a $1 million rowhouse near Dupont Circle, about a 10-minute walk from the restaurant, were arrested and charged with two counts of attempted second-degree cruelty to children, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. They spent Saturday and Sunday night in a precinct lockup until their initial appearance in court Monday afternoon. Both identified themselves to police as the children’s parents.
A D.C. Superior Court judge ordered Lucas and Chang released pending a hearing Feb. 18. The judge ordered them to stay away from the toddlers. Neither responded to questions from a reporter as they left the court building after the hearing.
Court files show the couple intends to hire their own lawyers. The documents say that Lucas is originally from France and works as a software engineer and that Chang is employed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The children were checked out by paramedics and were in good health, police said. They were turned over to D.C. Child and Family Services.
The initial call about the children came to police about 4:30 p.m. that day by a State Department lawyer who lives in a condominium above where the car was parked. He told police he watched the car for 20 minutes and called when no one showed up.
Police said surveillance video from the Ritz-Carlton shows that no one approached the car from the time the couple left until police arrived. Police said video surveillance from the hotel shows the Volvo “parked in the location it had been discovered” starting about 3:38 p.m. “The occupants exited the car” eight minutes later, police said, and the video showed that “no one approached the vehicle from the time the children were left unattended until the time police arrived.”
Lucas showed up at the car as police were investigating, according to the report, and told them he did not leave them for long. “The children were sleeping, so I went inside,” he told the officers.