Lakeland father beats up 'Good Samaritan'

Posted at 3:51 PM, Jun 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-27 08:01:58-04

A Lakeland man has left town, afraid for his family's life all because of a mistake, he says portrays him as a child predator.

Saturday, a family was at Lakeland's Super Complex to play softball. Like any other parent, the mother and father looked away for a second and their two-year-old daughter was gone.

"Yes you have to have your eye out," a Christina Riggs, Lakeland mother, said.

ABC Action News spoke to mothers, who know just how quick a child can disappear.

"I've been there, it's very scary," with five children, Riggs says it's not easy to keep them all in eye-shot. And with her own experiences of losing track of one child, for a short period of time, Riggs understands the panic that can go through a parent's mind.

"With five, you only have two hands," Riggs said.

At the SW Complex, one father did panic. The next time his toddler was spotted, just minutes later, the two-year-old was with an older gentlemen and assumptions were made.

"When I got there, I just swung on him," Austin Strickland said. Strickland was getting ready to play softball when his toddler wandered out of the dugout he was in.

ABC Action News asked Strickland if the 'stranger' was actually trying to abduct his daughter.

"Honestly, I really don't know. I don't want to say yeah," Strickland said.

According to police, Utpaul Patel, the stranger, had seen the little girl wandering and tried to help the toddler locate her parents. Patel told police he started walking towards the playground, which is also towards the park's parking lot. When Strickland saw what he thought was transpiring he jumped Patel.

"Do you regret beating him up?" Andrea Lyon, ABC Action News reporter, asked.

"No, not at all. You don't pick somebody's kid up in that direction, towards the parking lot whether you were going towards the parking lot or not," Strickland admitted.

Police quickly determined Patel was a 'Good Samaritan' and was truly trying to locate the girl's parents.
Neither one of the men were arrested.

For the mother of five, Riggs doesn't know how she would have reacted if she was in the same situation. She speculated that her husband probably would have done some pushing and shoving.

"Of course I would start wondering things in my head. You know where is he taking her?" Riggs said.

Riggs also said, it's easy to assume in this day and age that something could have been going wrong.
Despite that, she says that Patel deserves an apology.

"If they haven't already they should apologize to him and give a public apology, I think that would be something good," Riggs said.

Neither man was arrested.

Patel says he will be returning to Lakeland, but is trying to keep his family, including his two children, safe.