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ZipTrip clerk saw boy in pickup, saved him, customer says

A man waiting in an Airway Heights Zip Trip to buy coffee early Wednesday said a convenience store clerk went outside and rescued a 2-year-old boy from a pickup truck driven by kidnapping suspect Richard L. Welch.

Todd van Blaricom was in the Zip Trip that morning on his way to pick up a buddy for work. He wasn’t paying much attention at first, he said Friday, but saw the clerk head out the door.

The clerk walked to the passenger side of a red truck stopped in a no-parking area directly in front of the doors, then came back inside and asked van Blaricom and another customer to wait, telling them there was a child in the truck.

“I was a medic in the Army,” said van Blaricom. “I understand helping people.”

Welch is accused of kidnapping the boy from his North Spokane home early Wednesday and taking him to an Airway Heights motel. New court documents allege the boy was sexually assaulted.

The Zip Trip clerk took the boy from Welch around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday because he knew who Welch was and that Welch did not have children, police have said.

Van Blaricom said the clerk brought the boy back into the store wrapped in a blanket after seizing him from Welch’s truck.

The clerk called police and Welch was arrested later that morning.

The boy’s parents awoke at 5:20 a.m. to find their toddler missing and called police. The family was then reunited.

Welch remains jailed on a $150,000 bond. He did not show up in court as scheduled Thursday because he was sick, even though he spoke with television reporters to profess his innocence. On Friday he was rolled into court in a wheelchair as a sheriff’s deputy hovered nearby throughout his hearing.

Deputy Prosecutor Eugene Cruz asked that Welch be prohibited from having any contact with minors, a request the judge granted. “He does pose a serious risk to the community,” Cruz said.

When van Blaricom first saw the boy, he thought the child was a girl because of his curly hair. While the clerk was talking to the 911 dispatcher, the clerk turned to the child and asked how old he was. “Seven,” the child answered, even though the boy looked about 3 years old, van Blaricom said.

“All three of us knew it wasn’t right,” he said.

The boy was not crying and appeared “stoic,” van Blaricom said. He got the child a chocolate milk and a straw before police arrived.

Welch told police that he found the boy wandering near Wellesley Avenue and Lincoln Street around 3 a.m. and took him back to his motel room in Airway Heights. He claimed, however, that the child was a 7-year-old girl who climbed into his pickup truck when Welch offered to help the child find his parents.

According to court documents, Welch left the Zip Trip after the clerk took the boy out of his truck and drove to the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, where he told several employees that he had taken a child to his motel apartment. VA employees called police.

Spokane police Detective Elise Robertson said she is still investigating how Welch was able to abduct the child. “There’s no indication he entered the home,” she said.

Cruz said he intends to refile charges of assault and possession of a dangerous weapon against Welch. He was arrested on those charges in February, but was released after three days because he hadn’t made his first court appearance within 72 hours, as the law requires. Every day the judge was told that Welch was “not portable” and couldn’t come to court.

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