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Parents plead not guilty

7 week old left in car while parents in casino
By: Melody Stone and Stephanie Dumm
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The Rancho Cordova couple, whose baby was found in a car at Thunder Valley Casino Tuesday, pleaded not guilty to willful child endangerment at their arraignment Friday morning. Thuan Nguyen and Panfila Pho Phan, both 27, will appear in Placer County Superior Court at 8:30 a.m., Monday in Department 31, for continuing proceedings. Nguyen and Phan are facing felony charges of willfully endangering a child “under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death,” according to the California penal code. The parents could receive up to six years in a state prison. Bail is set for both defendants at $50,000; they were in custody at the Placer County Jail as of Friday afternoon. The District Attorney asked for a criminal protective order, preventing the parents from contacting or coming within 100 yards of the child. Judge Colleen Nichols granted the protective order. Both Nguyen and Phan spoke through a Vietnamese interpreter. Phan wiped tears from her face while Nichols and Nguyen’s public defender, John Lyman, discussed the case. A casino security guard found the 7-week-old baby in the casino garage while on patrol Tuesday evening. The guard managed to pry open the car door and retrieve the child, who was checked out by casino medical personnel and taken away by Placer County Children’s System of Care. The police believe the child was left in the car for about 2 ½ hours. The couple was seen on casino video cameras and arrested when they returned to their vehicle. Doug Elmets, Thunder Valley Casino spokesman, said the parents’ behavior was terrible, but thankfully the casino has a good security system. “It’s horrific, and it’s unfortunate that someone would do something like that,” Elmets said. “The good thing is that we have so many surveillance cameras and attentive security guards who were able to take the situation under control in a short period of time.” Elmets said infants or people under the age of 21 are not allowed on the gaming floor, but are allowed in the restaurants. The casino doesn’t offer an on-site child-care facility. The security guard who found the baby was not available for comment. National Gamblers Anonymous Trustee Ara, who declined to give his full name because of the anonymous requirement of Gamblers Anonymous, said the situation is terrible but he understands. Ara said he’s been abstinent for 14 ½ years, but can still remember the urge to gamble. “I've done a lot of crazy stuff myself just to get to action — taken unnecessary risks,” he said Friday. “I can understand the situation they're in, I've been there before." He said Gamblers Anonymous saved his life and his marriage, now the temptation to gamble is overridden by the memory of the pain his addiction caused his family. "I remember all the agony and all the stuff it made me go through and how I almost lost my wife and family because of the addiction,” Ara said. "I'm grateful I found the program early in my life." It is unknown if the defendants are addicted to gambling, but other casino visitors didn’t have much compassion for the couple. Thunder Valley Casino patrons were asked their thoughts about the incident and what should happen to the parents Friday morning. Perry Guthrie: “It’s a baby, you just don’t do that. That’s being a bad parent. I think protective services should figure out if they are able to keep the baby. If they have a gambling problem, give the baby to someone else who can take care of it. It’s bad parenting, no doubt.” Dan Sanchez: “I think that’s totally wrong, the baby can’t take care of itself. I think the parents should be punished. (Child Protective Services) should look into them as far as what other things are happening in the home as far as child neglect.” Talo Tupou: “I think it’s stupid. What’s more important, gambling or your child? There’s no common sense in that. My dad and I were talking about it this morning and we said, ‘why couldn’t one of the parents have stayed with the child while the other one gambled, and then switched?’ I think they should be punished, like a year in jail with probation to teach them a lesson.”