Mother Of Sunburned Children Doesn't Think She Committed Crime

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) - A day after being abruptly released from jail, a woman who allegedly allowed her children to become severely sunburned said Thursday she didn't do anything wrong.

Eve Hibbits, who had been jailed eight days, appeared on NBC's "Today" show one day after prosecutors dropped three felony counts, replacing them with a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment. Authorities said her three children were not as severely injured as officials had believed.

Hibbits was arrested Aug. 14, the day 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.

Temperatures were in the 90s at the time.

Sheriff Fred Abdalla said the children did not have any sunscreen or shirts on when a deputy spotted them and took them to a first aid station. They were later treated at a hospital and released. He said their faces looked like they had been "dipped in red paint."

Hibbits, 31, told NBC she didn't think she had committed any crime and being behind bars was awful.

"It felt like the walls of the jail were falling in on me. I ain't never been in jail," she said.

Her attorney, Shawn Blake, said the deputy had overreacted.

"The paramedics said it wasn't necessary, the kids were fine but they could take them to the hospital anyway," he told NBC.

Messages seeking comment were left Thursday for Blake. The phone number listed for Hibbits was not working Wednesday or Thursday.

Hibbits was released on her own recognizance and pleaded innocent to the misdemeanor. She had been held on $15,000 bond.

Trinity Medical Center West officials initially said the children suffered from second-degree burns but later reduced that to first-degree burns, county Prosecutor Brian Felmet said. A message seeking comment was left Thursday for the hospital's spokesman.

A first-degree burn will cause skin to turn red and tender, said Dr. Allison Vidimos, a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland. These burns can be uncomfortable for children but generally aren't dangerous, she said.

Second-degree burns penetrate the outermost layer of the skin and involve swelling and blistering. Depending on the extent of the burn, children also could develop chills, fever and nausea, Vidimos said.

Parents should apply sunscreen to their children every two hours. Babies younger than six months should be kept out of the sun, she said.

"Kids are going to get sunburned, but when it's so blatant that they've not put anything on their child 1/8to protect them 3/8, we'd counsel them and say, 'This is what you need to do,'" Vidimos said.

Felmet said he doesn't feel the charges against Hibbits were too severe based on the information he had.

"With the benefit of hindsight with the information we have now, we feel they weren't warranted," he said.

The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor is six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, but Felmet said probation was likely.

While Hibbits could have faced five years in prison and a $10,000 fine on each of the felonies, the sheriff said Wednesday he had not intended to imprison her.

"My intent was for the safety of the children, which was accomplished, and to give her a wake-up call," Abdalla said.

Felmet said authorities also were concerned because they thought 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.

Hibbits' husband, Richard, was working at the fair and the family had been camping there. The family lives in Brilliant, a small town south of Steubenville.

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