Mother Of Sunburned Children Released From Jail, Charges Reduced

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) - A woman who was jailed for eight days on felony charges she let her three children get severely sunburned was released Wednesday after those charges were dropped.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Brian Felmet said he dismissed the three felony child endangerment charges against Eve Hibbits, 31, of Brilliant, because the children were not as severely injured as officials had believed.

Hospital officials initially told authorities the children suffered from second-degree burns but later reduced that to first-degree burns, Felmet said.

"I don't feel they (the charges) were too severe based on that information," he said. "With the benefit of hindsight with the information we have now, we feel they weren't warranted."

After prosecutors dropped the felony charges, they charged Hibbits with a single count of misdemeanor child endangerment. She pleaded innocent and was released on her own recognizance. She had been held on $15,000 bond.

"This case is most likely going to result in a probation situation and there's no need for more than one charge," Felmet said. The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor is six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Hibbits' attorney, Shawn Blake, did not return calls to his office seeking comment Wednesday.

Hibbits was arrested last week after a sheriff's deputy noticed her 2-year-old daughter, Rose, and 10-month-old twin boys, Thomas and Timmy, had sunburned faces at the Jefferson County Fair.

Sheriff Fred Abdalla said the children did not have any sunscreen or shirts on, were red and slightly swollen and one was crying uncontrollably when a deputy spotted them and took them to a first aide station Aug. 13. Earlier this week, he said their faces looked like they had been "dipped in red paint."

He said it was about 95 degrees that day with high humidity, and the boy's bodies were partially covered with a heavy afghan.

Hibbits was arrested the following day.

Felmet said authorities also were concerned because they discovered that one of the twins had a collapsed lung. But medical records showed the boy's underdeveloped lung was the result of being born prematurely.

While Hibbits could have faced up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine on each of the felonies, the prosecutor and sheriff said on Wednesday that was not their intent.

"Never was it anybody's intent to put her in prison. ... My intent was for the safety of the children, which was accomplished, and to give her a wake-up call," Abdalla said. "It's easy to become a parent. The most difficult thing is being one."

He said children's services had been contacted about Hibbits previously but he would not say why.

Hibbits' husband, Richard, was working at the fair and the family had been camping there. After being treated at the hospital, the children were released to an aunt for several days before being returned to their father.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)