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Winsper almost hit by Car
February 11, 2009, 8:28 AM
Filed under: Paul Winsper, Toronto FC

A father remained in jail Tuesday night after he allegedly let his 8-year-son son drive a van, which took out a couple of trees and nearly hit two pedestrians in a parking lot, according to Bradenton Police reports.

Police arrested Mark A. Belanger, 34, of Sarasota, on charges of child abuse just before midnight Sunday in an Albertsons parking lot in the 4600 block of Cortez Road.

Belanger told police he was “feeling woozy and didn’t want to drive.” He also told them he let his child drive “because he wanted to have a bonding moment with his son.”

The two pedestrians nearly hit by the child driver are coaches with a Major League Soccer club team, Toronto FC. The team has been in the area for about a week in a training camp.

“I kind of panicked and ran as soon as I saw the car speeding toward us,” said Paul Winsper, a strength and conditioning coach, in a telephone interview Monday. “Your mind goes through lots of different things. I didn’t want to hang around just in case.”

The coaches contacted authorities immediately after the incident.

“We saw the little boy get out of the car. As soon as we saw him, we feared for his safety. It was for the child’s safety more than anything else that we called,” Winsper said.

Witnesses said the boy crashed the van into a tree, shattering the driver’s side rear window, after the two coaches got out of the way. The boy then crashed a second time into a tree, damaging the car’s radiator, the police report said.

When police arrived, Belanger fell to the ground after he dropped his wallet. When he fell, he slammed his face on the pavement, leaving a gash on the bridge of his nose.

The boy told police his father took “liquid medicine in order to feel better.” He pointed to an empty bottle of Canadian whiskey in the vehicle.

Belanger reportedly resisted arrest when officers took him into custody. He tried to kick out the windows in patrol car and was consequently pepper sprayed, the police report said.

Belanger remains in jail on a $10,120 bond on charges of child abuse and permitting an unlicensed driver to drive.

Beth Burger, criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.

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