'Santa' Hit With Kidnap Charge

Authorities say James R. Metts, 55, seen here Dec. 18, 2006, at the Lexington County, S.C., jail, has been charged with kidnapping. Police say on Dec. 17, 2006, while dressed as Santa Claus, he forced an 8-year-old girl to ride in his motorcycle's sidecar for several minutes, chased by her father at speeds of up to 80 mph, eventually pulling over and surrendering the child to the father. AP/Lexington County Sheriff

Authorities say a man dressed as Santa Claus lured an 8-year-old girl into his motorcycle sidecar and then drove off with the child – sparking a high speed chase by her father.

Police in Columbia, S.C., say John Michael Barton, 55, has been arrested on a kidnapping charge and is being held on $100,000 bail.

Police say the girl and her family, from Augusta, Georgia, had stopped at a convenience store off an interstate highway Sunday night when they noticed Barton, dressed in a Santa Claus suit, refueling his motorcycle.

Parents told police that Barton asked the children to come over and look at a stuffed Rudolph he had in his sidecar. Then, according to police, the parents say they saw Barton driving away with their 8-year-old girl.

Police say the girl's father chased Barton, at speeds of as much as 80 mph, flashing his headlights repeatedly as he drove. Police say Barton eventually stopped at a parking lot and the father reclaimed his daughter, who was not injured.

Authorities say Barton was arrested later Sunday when police found him hiding in a utility room at a nearby bar.

According to Sheriff James Metts, Barton had been portraying Santa Claus for several weeks, has given rides to other children in the area and has posed for photographs with children by his motorcycle.

A charge of kidnapping carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
By Katrina A. Goggins
  • Francie Grace

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