A man who admitted leaving an 11-month-old boy alone on the side of a Southland highway after finding him in the car he had just stolen has apologised to the baby's mother.
"I'm sorry for what I done [sic]. I shouldn't have done that. I'm saying I'm really sorry to the child's mother," Charanjit Singh, 31, of no fixed abode, said from the dock in the Invercargill District Court yesterday.
The boy was rescued by a passing truck driver and returned to his mother unharmed not long after he was left on the roadside in the Northern Southland town of Balfour on Monday afternoon.
From the dock, Singh also offered to pay for the damage he caused to the woman's $58,000 Mazda CX9, which he drove across paddocks and crashed down a small bank near Balfour while trying to evade police.
Singh has been in custody since his arrest on Monday and pleaded guilty yesterday to six charges - unlawfully taking the Mazda, theft of the complainant's $750 iPhone, failing to stop for police, abandoning a child, driving when forbidden and reckless driving.
His counsel, John Fraser, said he was not seeking name suppression.
Police prosecutor Sergeant Rob Mills said Singh was hitchhiking north on State Highway 94 on Monday. He was picked up at Lumsden and dropped off at Balfour. At the intersection of SH94 and Queen St, he hid his backpack in bushes and walked into the town.
Outside a dairy he saw the Mazda, which had been left outside the shop with the keys in the ignition while its owner went in to buy lunch.
Singh took the car and returned to get his backpack.
When he noticed the baby asleep in his car seat in the back he removed the child from his seat, placed him on the side of the highway, retrieved his backpack and drove off at speed.
A passing truck driver and the boy's mother both saw him leave the baby on the side of the road, Sgt Mills said.
Police chased Singh in a marked patrol car with lights and sirens on but he failed to stop.
He turned down a no-exit gravel road leading to the Mataura River, and when the road ran out, drove across paddocks before losing control of the vehicle and going over a small bank.
Singh ran off along the river but was soon caught by police. The cellphone was in his jeans pocket, Sgt Mills said.
When interviewed by police, he said had stolen the car intending to drive to Dunedin and did not know the child was in the car when he did so.
He estimated he had reached speeds of 200kmh during the chase.
Judge Michael Turner convicted Singh and remanded him in custody for sentencing on December 13.