Updated Tuesday, May 22, at 2:31 p.m.
A Fair Lawn woman was arrested and charged for allegedly putting her children into harm's way Monday after her unattended minivan carrying her two infant children rolled backwards out of its parking spot at the Radburn CVS and into parking lot traffic, said.
Police charged Natalie Akselrod, 35, with child endangerment -- a second degree offense that is punishable by 10 years in prison -- and notified the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), Sgt. James Corcoran said.
A woman who witnessed the frightening scene said she was waiting to take the van’s parking space -- which she believed it was in the process of vacating -- as it began rolling backwards toward her.
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said the van, identified by police as a gray 2003 Honda Odyssey, kept drifting back toward her -- even as she laid on her horn -- until it eventually grazed her bumper.
“I was able to pull away when I realized the car was not stopping,” said the woman, whose car suffered only minimal damage.
When the woman whose car was hit stepped out of her vehicle to inspect the van, she found no driver inside – just two babies – and yelled for someone to call the police.
Before police arrived, a man removed one of the crying babies to comfort it, the woman said.
Sgt. Corcoran said that when officers arrived on the scene around 2 p.m. Monday, they found two children -- six-month old twins -- left unattended in the vehicle, which was in neutral. The car's neutral status caused it to roll out of its parking spot, Corcoran said.
He said he believed both infants were strapped in to child safety seats, but added that a traffic safety officer on the scene had to make some adjustments to the way the seats were installed.
Akselrod, whom witnesses said had been inside CVS when the car rolled out, was taken into police custody at the scene. Police said they did not know how long the children were left unattended. Both babies were turned over to a party of Akselrod's choosing, Corcoran said, although he did not know the direct relationship.
Corcoran said care and custody of the children will be determined by a DYFS investigation.
Akselrod's lawyer, Stephen E. Schwartz, confirmed the incident in a statement released late Monday night that asked the public not to pass judgment on his client and consider that the incident could have happened to any parent.
"The facts of this case will show what truly happened in the parking lot on Monday May 21, but the most important thing is that the two children are safe and with their mother," the statement reads. "No one got hurt. This is just a nightmare scene, not an example of bad parenting."
Reached by phone Tuesday, Schwartz said he was still in the process of confirming the facts of the case, but noted that Akselrod was at home with her children and that the facts would eventually confirm his client was a fit parent.
"This was an isolated incident, a blip," he said. "Everything checked out. DYFS was there, they do a very thorough investigation. They looked at the car, they looked at the home and they determined that she could go home and be with her kids."
Schwartz called the current media scrutiny of his client "unfortunate" and said he was confident that when all the facts come to light the situation would appear as much less of a crisis than it is initially being treated.
"The things people say about other people when they don’t even know what happened, it is bothersome, and that’s really going to be her major punishment in this situation," he said. "The comments, the gawkers, and the people looking and judging."