Kristal and Robert Valenti of North State Street in Bunnell are well known to local law enforcement. Kristal, 38, has been arrested five times in eight years on drug, theft, probation violation and other charges. Robert, 42, has faced two domestic violent charges and violated a pre-trial agreement. On Sunday, both were charged with felony child neglect after being accused of leaving their autistic 6-year-old child in their truck or in the parking lot of a bar as they watched the Super Bowl for several hours.
A patron at the bar became concerned at the sight of the two parents inside the bar drinking while the patron could see the child outside walking or running around unsupervised. The patron called police. Bunnell police, then the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office well after 10 p.m., responded in what turned into a protracted investigation replete with changing stories and denials from the Valentis.
When the Bunnell Police Department’s Shane Tully first responded at 20:20 p.m. he saw the unattended boy wandering unsupervised in front of the Beer House on Bunnell’s State Street. He then saw Kristal walk the boy to the truck and sit in the truck with him. When Tully approached Kristal he reported her as uncooperative as she initially refused to produce her identification, and as she requested a supervisor, the Sheriff’s Office’s Jon Dopp was dispatched to the scene as his agency took over the investigation. The Department of Children and Families indicated it would also investigate.
Kristal told deputies that she, a friend and her husband had come to the Beer House to watch the Super Bowl, which began at 6:30 p.m., and that since the Beer House would not allow children inside after 6 p.m., she had decided to let her son sit in the truck and watch YouTube channels, using the Beer House’s WiFi. As she spoke to deputies she referred to the game as “a big event” and at one point attempted to fist-bump one of the deputies about the Philadelphia Eagles—one of the teams in the game—as she laughed. According to her arrest report, she told the deputies she thought it was ridiculous that the bar would not allow children in. But she said she trusted her son to leave him in the truck.
At first she said she’d been at the bar since the beginning of the game, then changed her story and said she’d gotten there at halftime, though her husband would later say she’d been there earlier but had been with the child the entire time—statements witnesses would deny. When informed that Tully, the Bunnell police officer, had seen the child wandering around outside, Kristal said she didn’t know what had happened and said: “that’s not abuse.” She said she’d told the child she’d be right inside the bar, and told deputies that was not against the law. She said she’d only done so because of the importance of the game—and because she wanted the Eagles to win. (Leaving a child unattended in a car is against the law.)
One of the witnesses told deputies that he saw Kristal walk in and out of the bar periodically, then heard the bartender say she saw someone run in front of the business—apparently referring to the child—and toward U.S. 1. The witness became concerned and upset, though it was a different witness who ended up calling 911—another witness who saw the child running in front of the bar. After learning that the child had been left unattended for two hours, he called 911. Yet another witness told deputies she saw Kristal arrive at the bar first near the start of the game, followed by her husband, and that while Kristal was said to have checked on her child about four times during the game, that took place over a stretch of some four hours.
Along the way the couple had an argument with the friend who’d come to the bar with them.
After Robert Valenti complained of chest pains and was checked out at Florida Hospital Flagler, both he and Kristal were booked at the Flagler County jail just before 2 a.m. Monday on a charge of neglect of a child without great harm, a third-degree felony. Both have been at the jail since on a $2,500 bond. The Department of Children and Families currently has custody of the child.
Domestic violence and abuse cases are thought to spike around Super Bowl time, but the claim, though frequently repeated and occasionally reinforced by high-visibility incidents, has been debunked.