I slather my child in sunscreen. Strap a helmet onto her head when she rides her tricycle. Buy organic foods and avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague.
But if I lived in Illinois, I could potentially be charged with child endangerment, like Treffly Coyne was.
Coyne is a suburban mother of three who buckled her kids into the car last Christmas for a quick jaunt to Wal-Mart. The goal: to give $8.29 in coins collected by her daughters to a Salvation Army bell ringer, take a couple of pictures, and leave.
Her 2-year-old daughter was sleeping and it was sleeting out; Coyne opted to park in a loading zone in front of the store, turn on her hazard lights, lock the car and run to the kettle with her other kids rather than wake the sleeping toddler.
Coyne was 10 yards away, she says, and her car was within sight at all times. But trouble was coming:
She snapped a few pictures of the girls donating money and headed back to the car. But a community service officer blocked her way.
“She was on a tirade, she was yelling at me,” Coyne said. The officer, Coyne said, didn’t want to hear about how close Coyne was, how she never set foot inside the store and was just there to let the kids donate money, or how she could always see her car.
Coyne telephoned her husband, Tim Janecyk, who advised her not to say anything else to police until he arrived. So Coyne declined to talk further, refusing even to tell police her child’s name.
When Janecyk pulled up, his wife already was handcuffed, sitting in a patrol car.
And the woman’s other children? Were later found sitting alone inside the store, huddled together in fear. Way to protect these kids’ safety, coppers!
While Illinois state law makes it illegal to leave a child unattended in a car for more than 10 minutes, I think most would agree that common sense should apply to each individual case, and the Crestwood Police overreacted in this one. But they are digging in their heels, and Coyne will stand trial today on a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment and obstructing a police officer:
Crestwood Police Chief Timothy Sulikowski declined to comment about the case. But he did not dispute the contention that Coyne parked nearby or was away from her car for just a few minutes.
He did, however, suggest Coyne put her child at risk.
“A minute or two, that’s when things can happen,” he said.
Oy. So it turns out that those times when I have left Maya buckled in her car seat while I pumped gas, grabbed cash from the ATM or ran back in the house to fetch something I forgot, I was endangering her safety. OK then.
I don’t think Coyne endangered her child in this case. It wasn’t hot out, nor does this rise to the level of
the Arizona woman who left her toddler in a hot car while she took her lapdog shopping at Neiman Marcus. But apparently life in Crestwood is so idyllic that police are free to spend their time focusing on moms who take their eyes off their kids for a couple of minutes.
What do you all think? Did this mom endanger her child? Is it ever OK to leave your kid sitting in a car? Could this whole mess have been avoided with a stern lecture or a small fine? Who should take more blame in this case, the stubborn police or the indignant mom? And what would YOU have done in Coyne’s situation?
UPDATE: Prosecutors just annouced that all charges against Coyne will be dropped.