This month, 5-year-old Adrian Zamarripa took $3 out of his piggy bank, stole the keys to his parents’ SUV in Ogden, Utah, and went for a joyride on the freeway, following the signs that pointed south to Los Angeles.
When the kindergartner was pulled over on Interstate 15 after driving about three miles at 32 mph, he told the shocked highway patrol officer that he was on his way to California to buy a Lamborghini sports car.
That afternoon, when news spread online about Adrian’s dangerous adventure, his parents and sister were lambasted on social media by outraged people who thought they should have been paying more attention. Adrian’s 16-year-old sister, Sidney Flores, who was babysitting, had taken a nap about 11 a.m. while her mom and stepfather were away at work, and that’s when her little brother decided to take the keys from a hook near the door and go after his dream.
“We thought he’d been kidnapped and we were all panicked,” said Sidney, speaking on behalf of her family because her parents understand limited English.
“I called my mom at work and she came rushing home, crying,” she said. “It never occurred to any of us that he would take off in the car by himself. How would he know how to do that?"
Nobody in the family had ever encouraged Adrian to drive, said Sidney, except for when he rode up and down the sidewalks in a battery-powered toy truck at age 2.
The public shaming was painful, she said, and made the family’s traumatic experience even worse.
“We all felt terrible about what happened — I never would have forgiven myself if something awful had happened to my brother or somebody else,” she said. “We gave him a real talking-to and he knows it was wrong.”
At least one person, though, decided that something positive could come out of the frightening experience.
Jeremy Neves, 33, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist from Orem, Utah, who happens to own a matte black Lamborghini. When he heard about Adrian’s incredible — and potentially deadly — road trip, he reached out to the family and asked whether he could take the boy for a ride in his sports car.
“I was shocked that a 5-year-old knew how to get on the freeway, then pull over for a cop,” said Neves, who has a son about six months younger than Adrian.
“Hey, I was 12 when I took my parents’ car,” he said. “This kid is 5? I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘This kid is ambitious and has no fear.’”
Education and discipline are certainly appropriate in Adrian’s case, Neves said.
“But please, let’s not just focus on the bad,” he said. “Let’s not miss the gift and the genius of this little boy. He was determined, willing to do whatever it took to go after his dream. You don’t want that dreaming to stop.”
So on May 5, the day after Adrian’s joyride, Neves roared up to Adrian’s house in his Lamborghini Huracan and spent the next hour taking him and all of his family members — his mother, father, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins — for rides around their neighborhood in his sleek (and loud) sports car.
“It was an amazing experience for all of us,” Sidney said. “Just seeing the smile on my brother’s face was the best part.”
“Riding in the Lamborghini felt like a dream,” said Adrian's mom, Beatriz Flores, in Spanish, as her daughter interpreted. “It made us all feel good that this kind man went out of his way to make my son happy."
Adrian seemed shy at first about going for a ride, said Neves, but as soon as he fired up his luxury car, the boy couldn’t stop grinning and shouting, “Faster! Go faster!”
“It made my day to lift up this family,” Neves said. “I get a lot more joy in sharing my stuff with other people than in keeping it for myself. If you can make a kid smile, why not?”
After a few spins around the block in the high-powered sports car, Neves said, Adrian warmed up enough to make him an offer.
“Adrian came over to me with his $3, and I said, ‘Are you trying to buy this car from me?’” Neves said. “He told me, ‘No, I want to keep my money, but you can give me the Lamborghini.'