- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

MANTECA, Calif. (AP) — A married couple who got a dog sitter for their puppies but left the man’s young children home alone while they vacationed in Las Vegas were arrested Wednesday, police said.

Jacob Calero, 39, and Michelle De La Vega, 32, were taken into custody as they arrived home on a flight to Oakland. They had left town last Friday to celebrate the new year, authorities said.

The couple apparently told 9-year-old Joshua to look after his 5-year-brother, Jason, who is autistic. The children spent one night alone before police found them.

Their grandmother Libbey Holden said she called police because she had suspected the couple left the children at home in San Ramon, about 35 miles east of San Francisco.

“I had big concerns,” Mrs. Holden said. “These kids are helpless.”

Joshua said his father and stepmother got each other puppies for Christmas, which they brought to Mrs. De La Vega’s mother to care for before leaving town.

“I thought they loved them more than us,” Joshua said during an interview at his maternal grandmother’s apartment. The children’s mother died in 2003.

He added that he and his brother ate cereal for breakfast and cooked frozen dinners in the microwave.

“I didn’t know who I could call in an emergency. Even if I called my father, he’s far away, so there wouldn’t be much he could do,” the boy said.

Mr. Calero and Mrs. De La Vega were being held on suspicion of two felony counts each of child endangerment. Bail was set at $200,000.

Police found the children asleep in their beds Saturday night. A gas fireplace was on, but they found nothing out of the ordinary.

“It appears that the food and the environment were set up for them to be alone,” San Ramon Police Sgt. Brian Kalinowski said.

Officers began calling Mr. Calero’s cell phone Saturday, but he did not call back until Tuesday.

“We get the sense that they felt no urgency for them to return home,” Sgt. Kalinowski said.

Mr. Calero and Mrs. De La Vega have requested attorneys and have refused to talk to police, Sgt. Kalinowski said. Felony child endangerment carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison.

Mr. Calero is a plumber and Mrs. De La Vega works in a dental office, police said.

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