Car theft appears to be behind abduction of children, police say

Friday, September 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Two teen-agers suspected of stealing a car from a Tulsa convenience store may have been surprised to discover two children in diapers in the back seat, police said Friday.

The abduction of 19-month-old Monique Collette and 6 1/2-month-old Demetri Collette appears to have been a crime of opportunity, police said after interviewing two 19-year-olds arrested in the case in Delaware County on Thursday.

``They're claiming they didn't know the children were in the car for a while,'' Officer Lucky Lamons said.

Joe Phelps of Afton and his girlfriend, Bonnie Grubbs of Tulsa, are being held in the Delaware County Jail following their arrest late Thursday afternoon at a Delaware County residence. They were expected to be transported to the Tulsa Jail by Friday afternoon, Lamons said.

Phelps' residence is within a mile from the rural Ottawa County location where the stolen vehicle was abandoned with the children unharmed inside, he said.

The children were strapped in the back seat of their parents' neon pink Geo Tracker on Tuesday evening when their mother left them and the keys inside as she went to get a drink in the store. The car disappeared minutes later.

Lamons said a witness called police around 10:20 p.m. Tuesday to report that he had seen a young white couple prowling the store parking lot, looking inside car windows.

``They looked into the Geo, saw the keys, jumped in and took off,'' he said.

The disappearance of the children around 5:45 p.m. activated the state's first Amber Alert, a plan in which law enforcement and media work together to notify the public quickly of child abductions. The Amber Alert is named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old Arlington, Texas, girl who was abducted and killed in 1996.

Tips to a crime hotline and help from county officials in eastern Oklahoma led police to Phelps' home, Lamons said. Phelps was arrested after an interview in which ``he made statements that implicated himself.''

Police believe the suspects drove the stolen car Tuesday evening on back roads to Afton and immediately abandoned it on a rural road with the children inside. A poultry farmer on his way to go fishing spotted the car around 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Lamons said Phelps had no record. Grubbs had been given citations in Tulsa in May for alleged shoplifting and public intoxication, he said.

He said the couple had driven from Afton to Tulsa in a borrowed car, which broke down Tuesday.

Police cleared the children's parents, Brandy and David Collette. They were questioned because Mrs. Collette at first told police she was alone when she left the children in the car. It was later revealed that David Collette had been at the store as well but caught a ride with a store employee in an attempt to pursue the stolen car.

Police initially said they were led to believe that David Collette was out of the country.