Does anyone else find this story ridiculous?
Back during last year's holiday shopping season, a mother of three named Treffly Coyne decided to encourage her two oldest daughters to collect coins for the Salvation Army bellringer drive. Together, the girls collected around $8 in change, and one night, their mother decided to take them to the neighborhood WalMart, not to shop, but just to drop their collected coins off in the kettle. She brought a camera, too, to take a photo of the girls making their donation. I guess she was proud.
The night she drove her daughters to Walmart to drop off their coins, it was sleeting outside. Coyne's youngest daughter, aged two at the time, was asleep in her carseat. When the family arrived at the Walmart parking lot, she made a decision that I think many, many mothers may have made under the same circumstances.
Rather than wake her sleeping toddler up to take her out into the sleet, she parked as close as she could to the Salvation Army bellringer. And then she took her two oldest daughters out quickly in the sleet to let them make the donation and snap a quick photo, and left her two-year-old, still strapped into her car seat, sleeping in the car.
Coyne locked the car and turned on the alarm before taking her older children across the sidewalk to make their donation. The whole errand took less than ten minutes. Coyne was never more than ten yards away from her car.
And yet, when she returned to the car, a police officer barred her from entering the vehicle. She was handcuffed in the parking lot and confined in a squad car. According to Coyne, the police took her youngest daughter into protective custody but left the two older daughters, aged eight and nine, alone in the Walmart parking lot.
Coyne is now on trial for child endangerment and obstruction of justice.
Now, I don't personally condone leaving children unattended in cars. I have never personally left my own son alone in the car, even for such a short errand. But, I just don't think leaving a sleeping child in a car for less than ten minutes while you are just a few steps away is an offense worth arresting someone over. I just don't. I mean, the car was within the mother's sight at all times. The woman did not even go into the store.
Back in the days before ubiquitious debit cards and Pay-at-the-Pump machines, when drivers actually had to go IN to gas stations to pay for gas, my parents used to leave my sister and me alone in the car for a few minutes all the time at the gas station, while they went INSIDE the establishment to pay, and I am sure this is true of most people in my generation. A lot of us, too, were left in the car for a minute or two at the corner store while an adult ran in to grab a package of diapers or a gallon of milk.
Should all of our parents have been arrested?
I understand that rising carjacking rates, and the general campaign to raise awareness about children's safety issues, have changed the social landscape since then. And so I do also understand why some people were upset that Ms. Coyne left her baby in the car, even though she only did so for a few minutes, and she could see the car at all times.
But I think the appropriate response, if officials thought a response was warranted, would have been to issue her a stern warning and leave it at that. I believe it's an almost criminal waste of time and effort for the system prosecute frivolous cases like these, when children are returned every day to homes where there has been documented evidence of serious abuse. And I think that dragging this well-intentioned mother's name and reputation through the mud will hurt her daughters far, far more than a few minutes alone in a safe car seat, in a safely locked car, ten yards away from their mother ever could.