Melissa A. Nowlin, 27, of 445 Cypress St., was arrested in the Wednesday night incident at the Kingsport Town Center. She is charged with felony shoplifting, child abuse or neglect, reckless endangerment, false reporting of an accident, violation of child restraint laws and failure to comply with financial responsibility.
Kingsport Police Office Dale Farmer says a warrant has also been obtained for her boyfriend, who reportedly ran from the crash scene and was not immediately apprehended.
According to an arrest report, a loss prevention officer called police to Belk after observing Nowlin and the man select 23 items of clothing. Nowlin is alleged to have then exited the store and pulled a 2008 Chrysler 300 into the fire lane by the entrance.
Farmer says Nowlin left her two children, an infant and 8-year-old, inside the car with the doors open and engine running. She allegedly reentered Belk, located her boyfriend and they ran from the store with the clothing, valued at $1,040.50. Loss prevention attempted to stop the duo but they jumped into the car and sped away.
The incident continues in a Kingsport Police Department crash report. It states that as Nowlin drove across the parking lot she lost control and struck a tree along Memorial Boulevard. Officer Farmer estimated the car's speed at the point of impact — after it had already slid and jumped a curb — as between 35 and 40 mph.
Though the vehicle sustained disabling damage neither child needed to be transported for medical care. Farmer says Nowlin's 8-year-old was in a booster seat, with it not known if they were wearing a seatbelt. The infant was allegedly in a car seat that had been incorrectly installed, with Farmer saying it was, "more or less just sat in there."
Nowlin's charge of filing a false report stems from her allegedly telling police her boyfriend, who ran from the crash scene, had been driving the car. Farmer said surveillance video reveals she was behind the wheel.
As of Thursday evening Nowlin's boyfriend had not been arrested.