Family says gym at fault for losing track of son

A local family is furious with the LA Fitness in 4S Ranch after their child wandered away from the gym.

Cris and Paul Houghtaling dropped off their 10-year-old triplets Saturday morning at the fitness center's Kids Klub. The couple pays an additional $30 a month for the child care service.

The Houghtalings were roughly 20 minutes into their workout when an employee came and got them.

"'We have a problem.' I'm like, "Oh, really? OK.' So I followed her to the front of the gym," said Paul Houghtaling.

Their son Julian, who has autism and doesn't speak, was nowhere to be found.

"I saw a couple other employees out there and they're all kind of looking around, like frantically," said Houghtaling.

The couple said the staff knew the boy had autism and had a tendency to wander. In fact, the family said this is the second time Julian left the Kids Klub. Two weeks ago, an employee found him in the parking lot.

That's one of the reasons why the family recently purchased a GPS tracking app called AngelSense. The boy wears a clip on his pants that tracks his location.

"Well, my heart started beating very fast and I barely thought twice, ran out to my car and drove, had my tracker on. I was looking at it, kept driving until I got closer and closer," Houghtaling said.

According to the app, the boy was 0.7 miles away from the gym.

"I was surprised how far away it was and I was kind of frantic because I am not that familiar with the neighborhood," said Houghtaling.

The app showed Julian crossed busy Camino Del Norte and another street before a neighbor spotted him eating roses in someone's yard.

When his dad got there, the child was sitting in the back of a San Diego sheriff's patrol car.

"Thank God he was safe; I was so relieved to find him," said Houghtaling.

That relief soon turned to anger. The family wants LA Fitness to make changes to its Kids Klub so no other children can wander off. The Houghtalings think their child was missing roughly 20 minutes before anyone noticed.

"I'm not only upset that he bolted out of here, but the fact that it took you so long to even notice it … they were very apologetic," said Cris Houghtaling.

She told a district manager she wanted to be notified in writing of changes made to the Kids Klub.

"Whether you have more people watching them or a gate that makes noise or a check out process, something should change," said Cris Houghtaling.

She said the manager called her Wednesday morning and told her they are not required to make changes.

"They're not a licensed child care facility. They're just providing babysitting services; therefore, they don't have to abide by any laws, and what they could offer us is next time we want to work out, we could bring our nanny," said Houghtaling. "I was infuriated. I said this is not a resolution, you're trying to blame this on my child, you're trying to say this is my child's fault."

She said the manager then offered another suggestion.

"She said you can also take turns with your husband while one works out the other watches the child here and I said, 'This is totally unacceptable.' They don't have the safety procedures in place that any child could have gotten out, or somebody could have gotten to the child," said Houghtaling.

The couple has canceled their membership.

10News stopped by the fitness center Thursday afternoon, and an employee said she wasn't allowed to give out the manager's information or a corporate contact.

10News tried calling the manager who Houghtaling spoke with and a number on the company's website for a media relations department, but have not heard back.

Houghtaling said the company had the chance to make it right.

"I said this is a happy call, this is a call about let's fix this, it could have been a very, very sad call. My son could have been abused or run over or killed in 20 minutes and then what, what are you going to say, 'Sorry'?" Cris Houghtaling said.

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