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Carlos Rico, 22, stopped his car along a cactus-lined stretch of Interstate 20 near Sweetwater at about 3 a.m. Tuesday and "threw the boy out of the car like a bag of garbage," Sweetwater police Chief Jim Kelley told the Abilene Reporter-News on Tuesday.
The boy was picked up about three hours later by the local high school basketball coach and taken to a hospital, where doctors removed at least 500 cactus spines from the child's body, Kelley said. The boy was in the state's custody on Wednesday.
"I've seen a lot of bad things. This is absolutely a first. I've never seen a 4-year-old angel left on the side of the road for dead. He's such a sweet little boy," he said.
Rico was driving from Lubbock to Saginaw when he abandoned his son, and he was taken into custody Tuesday by police in the Fort Worth suburb, Saginaw police spokesman Damon Ing told The Associated Press on Wednesday. Rico's cousin called police when Rico showed up to see him without his son, and investigators determined that Rico was the father of the boy found near Sweetwater, he said.
Rico told Saginaw investigators that God told him to choke the boy and expel him from the car, Kelley said. There was bruising on the boy's throat, he said.
Ing said Rico had been charged with child endangerment and did not have a lawyer representing him. His bond was set at $50,000.
Al Hunt, the motorist who found the boy, said he initially thought he was looking at a guardrail post until it moved.
"It took me seconds to realize, `it's a little kid there,'" the 54-year-old coach said.
He said he pulled over and, not seeing a vehicle the child might have been in, ran across the road and scooped the boy into his arms. He said the boy's lips were cracked as if he were dehydrated, and that the only response the boy gave to his questions was when he held up four fingers when Hunt asked his age.
"He didn't say a word to me. He didn't say a word to anybody. He never said a word," Hunt said.
Kelley said Rico would be brought to Sweetwater, about 225 miles west of Dallas, where he could face additional charges, including attempted murder or attempted capital murder, which could apply because the boy is younger than 6, he said.
The boy's stepmother in Lubbock came to Sweetwater to be with him. The whereabouts of the boy's biological mother were not immediately known, and it was unclear if she is involved in his life.
Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for Child Protective Services, told The Associated Press that there is no history of abuse involving the boy's family. She said a custody hearing is set for July 7.