Mom faces trial for leaving toddler in car
Controversial child endangerment case stirs Internet debate
updated 11:24 a.m. PT, Wed., March. 12, 2008
CHICAGO – Treffly Coyne was out of her car for just minutes and no more than 10 yards away.
But that was long and far enough to land her in court after a police officer spotted her sleeping 2-year-old daughter alone in the vehicle; Coyne had taken her two older daughters to pour $8.29 in coins into a Salvation Army kettle.
Minutes later, she was under arrest — the focus of both a police investigation and a probe by the state’s child welfare agency. Now the case that has become an Internet flash point for people who either blast police for overstepping their authority or Coyne for putting a child in danger.
The 36-year-old suburban mother is preparing to go on trial Thursday on misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and obstructing a peace officer. If convicted, she could be sentenced to a year in jail and fined $2,500, even though child welfare workers found no credible evidence of abuse or neglect.
On Dec. 8 Coyne decided to drive to Wal-Mart in the Chicago suburb of Crestwood so her children and a young friend could donate the coins they’d collected at her husband’s office.
Even as she buckled 2-year-old Phoebe into the car, the girl was asleep. When Coyne arrived at the store, she found a spot to park in a loading zone, right behind someone tying a Christmas tree onto a car.
“It’s sleeting out, it’s not pleasant, I don’t want to disturb her, wake her up,” Coyne said this week. “It was safer to leave her in the safety and warmth of an alarmed car than take her.”
So Coyne switched on the emergency flashers, locked the car, activated the alarm and walked the other children to the bell ringer.
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.