Just five blocks from where the search for Destiny Norton is being centered, Salt Lake City police are being criticized for how they handled frantic phone calls for help concerning a child inside a stolen car.

Veronica Salazar had just finished work and picked up her 5-year-old son, Jonathan, from a baby sitter on Thursday when she pulled in to the Tesoro station at 700 East and 400 South. She left her Pontiac Grand Prix running while she ran inside to buy a car-wash ticket.

"When I go outside, I didn't see my car," Salazar said, wiping away tears. "Somebody took it with my kid inside the car."

She screamed for help and then saw her car going down 700 East. Running after it, she saw the car stop at 500 South and the door opened.

"I saw my son getting out of the car," she cried. "He was crying and he was scared. But now he's OK."

Robert Larsen Jr., who was at Tesoro buying gas, called 911 only to be told by a dispatcher the call was "not a priority right now." When an officer showed up, Larsen says they were brushed off.

"He stood there and he says, 'Yeah, we got the call. I can't do anything about it right now — I have another call. It's not a priority. It's on the back burner,' " Larsen said. "What does it take for the police department to do something?"

An hour and 15 minutes later, Salt Lake City police officers showed up to interview Salazar and her son. Jonathan sat kicking his legs in the air next to the pump, smiling and giggling.

"Are you OK?" an officer asked him. "Scary, huh?"

Salt Lake City Police Lt. Craig Gleason said officers have to prioritize cases.

"No one disputes that what happened here would scare any mother or father to death," he said. "But at any given time there are zero to 20 calls waiting in the city."

Gleason said the data they had was the car was stolen and the child was OK. Because the child was not harmed, other calls were moved up in priority. At the time of the call, police said they were responding to nine other requests for service.

Larsen said the police should have responded faster — and been a little nicer about it.

"This could have been disastrous. This could have been another kidnapping," he said, referring to the disappearance of 5-year-old Destiny Norton.

Gleason said police will investigate the concerns about their response.

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"I can't believe it," Salazar said of the police. "I'm just glad I have my son."

"Sorry it took so long," an officer was overheard telling her. Gleason ended up giving her a ride home.

"I'd be embarrassed if I were Salt Lake City right now," Larsen said. "It's totally incompetent. I cannot believe this. What do we pay tax dollars for? This is totally wrong."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

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