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Video: Family ‘grateful’ 7-year-old driver is OK

TODAY contributor
updated 7/31/2009 9:44:39 AM ET 2009-07-31T13:44:39

Most kids who want to get out of going to church claim a stomachache or a fever — but not Preston Scarbrough. Like a modern-day Huckleberry Finn taking a joyride down the Mississippi on a raft, the 7-year-old Utah boy took a jaunt down the streets around his home.

In his father’s car.

With a growing number of cop cars chasing him with blaring sirens and flashing lights.

It all happened in Plain City, Utah, last Sunday, and the dashboard videos shot by Weber City Sheriff’s deputies have been quite a hit on the Internet. On Friday in New York, Preston told his story for the first time to TODAY’s Meredith Vieira.

Rude awakening
Looking as innocent as a towheaded 7-year-old boy can look, Preston didn’t have a lot to say about a joyride that could easily have turned tragic. He left the heavy narrative to his parents, Daniel and Melanie Scarbrough, who are only now starting to see the humor in an event that they knew nothing about until their driveway filled up with police cars.

It was somewhere between 8 and 8:30 a.m. last Sunday. Melanie was still sleeping upstairs in the family’s home and Daniel was idly watching TV, thinking that the kids — Preston and his 15-year-old sister, Londyn — were still sleeping.

“I heard sirens coming down the street. I actually thought it was Preston getting up playing a video game, something like that,” Daniel Scarbrough told Vieira. “The sirens started getting louder and louder and louder, and all of a sudden I hear him come across the floor upstairs and come running downstairs.”

When Preston found his father, he gave him a quick bit of information.

“Dad, the cops are outside.”

Utterly clueless about the joyride his son had just concluded and the posse of pursuing patrol cars he had collected along the way, the father asked, “Oh, they’re outside in front of our house?”

“Yeah,” Preston said before scurrying out of the room and hiding in the basement.

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‘High-speed chase’
Daniel Scarbrough still hadn’t caught on that any of this had anything to do with him and his exceptionally well-behaved son, who had never been the wild and crazy sort.

“I’m assuming it’s something happening across the street,” Daniel Scarbrough told Vieira.

That’s when the cops arrived at his front door and the mystery started to unravel.

“I’m trying to find some pants to put on, some shorts or something,” he said, smiling at the memory of the confusion. “By the time I did, I was coming to the front door, the officers were coming through the garage door and my back door.”

They had something they needed to tell him: “My son had just been involved in a high-speed chase.”

High-speed is a relative term. Preston never got the family’s white Dodge Intrepid over 40 mph on local streets, but, as the father pointed out, “It was high-speed for a 7-year-old, I guess.”

A Weber County Sheriff’s deputy had first noticed a car being driven by what looked like a boy of maybe 13 or 14. When the car ran a stop sign, the chase started in earnest.

Police dash-cam footage shows that a stop sign did not deter 7-year-old Preston’s joyride behind the wheel of his father’s white Dodge Intrepid.
Preston would run another of those pesky red signs, and it was just fortunate that it was a Sunday morning and traffic was almost nonexistent. At one point, a deputy tried to cut him off, but Preston just turned down a side street and continued on his way.

When he got to the local high school, he led police on an orbit of the parking lot before turning back onto local streets and ultimately driving back to his home. He parked the car in the driveway, well short of the garage, hopped out wearing a tan shirt and shorts, and hightailed into the house, kicking up a cloud of dust as he ran.

Precocious skills
The cops were actually rather impressed with Preston’s driving skills, especially as he had never steered a car before, not sitting on dad’s lap in the driveway or any other way. Vieira asked Preston how he had learned to drive.

“Watched my mom. Watched my sister,” he said, as if no other explanation was required. And, for a 7-year-old, it wasn’t.

He said he sat on the seat and peered over the dashboard.

Vieira asked if he knew he was in trouble when the police cars started following him with wailing sirens.

Preston sucked on his cheeks and nodded his head emphatically.

Why didn’t he stop? Video: 7-year-old takes car to avoid church

The boy shrugged as only a kid can and made a sort of humming noise that sounded like, “I don’t know.”

“Are you going to get behind the wheel again?” Vieira asked.

“Uh-unh!” he grunted, and Preston sounded as if he meant it.

Preston had risen early to take his ride. He initially told his parents he did it because he didn’t want to go to church (maybe it was something about those pesky commandments telling him he couldn’t steal the family car and he had to honor his mom and pop that he didn’t want to have to listen to).

His mom asked why he did it.

Like a lot of 7-year-olds, Preston at first said, “I don’t know.” But he also told the deputies he did it because he didn’t want to go to church. Finally, the truth came out.

“Later, he did tell us he wanted to know what it felt like to drive a car, so he did it,” Melanie Scarbrough told Vieira.

No more driving games
Daniel Scarbrough said that at 7, Preston initially had a hard time comprehending the magnitude of what he did.

“When we said, ‘Maybe we should let the officers put you in jail for a few days,’ that’s when it sunk in,” the father said.

The parents did not see the humor in the situation.

“To be honest, for us, we saw the video the day before yesterday, and that was really the first time it started to become a little funny for us,” Daniel Scarbrough said. “For the first two or three days, we could be sitting here for a lot different reasons right now, so we’re happy it turned out OK, and grateful.

“To see him go through those stop signs, it could have been a tragedy, not just for him but for somebody else,” the dad added. “I can’t imagine having to say I’m sorry to somebody else for my son doing this.”

Joining 7-year-old joyrider Preston Scarbrough on the TODAY show were (from left) his 15-year-old sister, Londyn; his mother, Melanie, and his father, Daniel.
Preston was sentenced to a four-day grounding in his room with no TV or video games — especially the driving games the boy loves. “We’re going to throw away the driving video games,” Daniel Scarbrough said.

Vieira asked Preston if he thought the punishment was deserved, and the boy nodded yes.

But now it was Friday, the grounding was over, and he was in New York, on television. After his interview, he even got to go out onto Rockefeller Plaza and watch Kings of Leon perform live for an enthusiastic crowd.

It was a long way away from last Sunday in rural Utah. When all was said and done and the police had left without ticketing Preston — he was too young — Daniel, Melanie, Londyn and Preston Scarbrough went to church.

They gave thanks that everything turned out OK.

The father said there’s a lesson in what happened for everyone: That if it could happen to “a cotton-candy, all-American kid like Preston, it can happen to anybody.”

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