.She had taken her children for a fun day out at the county fair. But when police saw three of Eve Hibbits’s youngsters in their pushchairs, she was arrested – because they were sunburned.
Now – after more than a week in jail after failing to raise £10,000 bail – she could face a 15-year prison sentence on charges of endangering her children, who have been taken into care.
Last night, her arrest brought protests from civil rights observers and has startled justice officials – who say they have never heard of a similar case.
But Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who put 31-year-old Mrs Hibbits in jail, said he had no doubt he had done the right thing.
‘As soon as I looked at the children, I could tell,’ he said yesterday. ‘It looked like they had been dipped in red paint. It was 95 degrees and they were literally baking. Their skin was blistering.’
Mrs Hibbits had taken four of her children to the fairground in Steubenville, Ohio, to see their father operating an amusement ride.
During the baking hot day, a sheriff’s deputy noticed that the three younger children – a two-year-old girl and ten-month-old twin boys – were distressed and crying.
He radioed in a report to his superiors saying the mother had been walking around for hours and the youngsters looked sick.
Sheriff Abdalla said he went to the fairground and questioned Mrs Hibbits. ‘She seemed kind of slow,’ he added. ‘She didn’t seem aware of sunscreen. I had no choice but to arrest Mrs Hibbits. If I ignore this and something happens, then shame on me.’
He said one of the children had a collapsed lung through excessive crying. He left the fourth child, aged 11, at the fairground while he drove the younger children to a medical centre in Steubenville.
There, the youngsters were treated with cold compresses and released the same day. Medical centre spokesman Keith Murdock said they had second-degree sunburn.
‘Most people who get sunburned get second- degree sunburn,’ he added. ‘It means any sunburn that is beginning to blister. They were blistering. The ones that we usually get here are far worse and include third-degree burns and heatstroke.’
The 11-year-old was later picked up at the fairground, where she was crying because she could not find her parents.
Sheriff Abdalla charged Mrs Hibbits with three felony counts of endangering the children, each of which can carry a five-year jail sentence. He said prosecutors would decide what kind of penalty to seek.
‘Children’s services are going to be involved,’ he added. ‘Whatever happens, the mother has to get the message that something has to be done.’
A lawyer for the local Jefferson County public defender’s department, said: ‘It seems outrageously excessive treatment and ludicrous to threaten a mother with such excessive jail time.
‘That time is more in keeping with rape or bank robbery. Clearly the woman is at fault, but she can be helped by the community services.’
Last night, Mrs Hibbits was expected to be released on bail, after which the case will be sent to a higher court.
The St. Louis Today newspaper wrote an article recently about two month old Kaden Danuser, one of four children to die in unlicensed child care centers in Jackson County in Missouri during an eight month period. Two deaths, including Kaden’s, occurred where caregivers were watching too many children without a license and allegedly had lied to parents about having one.
Kaden’s parents had dropped him and his older brother off to the home of Stella D’Anna (Maria Stella D’Anna) and within a few hours, their baby was dead. The Lee’s Summit child care provider was ran inside the home of Stella D’Anna and Nick D’Anna (Nicola D’Anna)
located at 912 SW Georgetown Rd., Lee’s Summit, Missouri in Jackson County.
Police said D’Anna at first insisted Kaden’s older brother was the only other child in her residence. But then another young child came into view. Downstairs, police reported finding two other children. Then D’Anna’s teenage daughter refused to allow police into another room, claiming it was her bedroom.
Police said that when they persuaded her to open the door, they found five more children, ages 2 to 4.
D’Anna not only was caring for too many children, prosecutors said, she tried to conceal them during a death investigation. Authorities later alleged that D’Anna had lied to Kaden’s parents about being licensed.
In January, D’Anna pleaded guilty of making false statements regarding a license. Prosecutors then went a step further. Using a vague Missouri child protection law, they took her to civil court. Arguing her “knowing violation places children at an increased risk of neglect, possible abuse or even death,” they asked a judge to immediately require D’Anna to “cease operating a child care facility.”
The law had not been applied to an unlicensed provider in a decade.
D’Anna, through an attorney, declined to be interviewed for the story with St. Louis Today.
“My client is very sad regarding this unfortunate death of a child, but she didn’t do anything wrong and was not at fault,” said attorney Michael McCausland, who is representing D’Anna in a wrongful death suit filed by Kaden’s parents, Joey and Danny Danuser. Citing the pending lawsuit, the Danusers also declined to comment.
In Missouri, state regulators have the legal right to shut down licensed child care facilities they consider to be dangerous to children or to put caregivers on probation. But when it comes to unlicensed day cares — even illegal ones — the law is not so clear.
Lawyers familiar with D’Anna’s case say the law does not adequately define whether unlicensed providers fall under the legal definition of a child care facility.
The law gives the court the right to keep a facility closed until it is in compliance with state laws. But with illegal providers, complying can be as simple as reducing the number of children in care.
Court orders based on this subsection are prime for appeal, the lawyers said.
In December, and again in February, a Jackson County judge ordered that D’Anna cease from operating a child care facility. But the judge used the narrow state definition of child care facility, one that allowed her to continue operating with four or fewer children.
The judge also opened the door for the state to have limited authority to monitor her for compliance of the enrollment limit.
St. Louis Today contacted another one of D’Anna’s attorneys, Lance LeFevre, said the court action never legally deterred her from caring for children.
“All it said all along was follow the law, comply with the law,” he said, adding that his client told the court in August she would no longer care for children.