Thurmont police Sgt. Shawn Tyler said he could barely believe his eyes: Before him, at a Frederick County shopping mall, a woman was helping three young children into the trunk of her car.

Two boys -- one the woman's 9-year-old son and the other an 8-year-old friend -- hopped into the trunk of the teal Volvo 850 on their own, according to court documents charging Lanora Adele Lucas with three counts of reckless endangerment. The 3-year-old, Lucas's daughter, came last, set inside by Lucas, the officer said. With that, she drove off southward.

Tyler gave chase, pulling Lucas over at the Route 15 on-ramp off Tippin Drive. The incident Saturday morning was recorded on the camera inside Tyler's police cruiser, but the video has been sealed as evidence.

"Did I do something wrong?" Lucas, 37, asked, according to the charging documents.

"Yes, you did," Tyler replied.

"I don't think so," Lucas said.

"What about the three children you have in the trunk of your car?" Tyler asked.

As soon as Tyler spoke, Lucas "began to visibly shake," Tyler said in an interview yesterday. "She knew she was in trouble."

Tyler said he ordered Lucas to open the trunk. Inside were three children Tyler described as looking "terrified." The 3-year-old was soaked with sweat, wearing nothing but a diaper.

When Tyler asked what three children were doing in her trunk, Lucas replied that "they wanted to ride back there," Tyler said. Giving her four traffic citations, Tyler said he warned Lucas that he would discuss her case with the office of the Frederick County state's attorney.

After prosecutors recommended that she be charged with reckless endangerment, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail, Tyler arrested Lucas on Monday night.

Scott L. Rolle, the state's attorney, said yesterday that Lucas was charged with endangerment, rather than child abuse, because she appeared to mean the children no harm. Tyler agreed: "I think it was just a very poor decision," he said.

Lucas, who posted $25,000 bond and will be tried Aug. 23 at Frederick County District Court, declined to speak with reporters yesterday, remaining silent inside her small white ranch home as a stream of reporters called out her name, rapped on her door and rang her doorbell.

Nearby, a rooster and four hens paced in a small chicken coop. A plastic Whirly-Twirl swing set stood idle in her large yard facing Route 15; so did the Volvo parked in her driveway.

The Thurmont Police Department released this image recorded by a camera in the car of Sgt. Shawn Tyler, left, after he stopped the Volvo 850 on a Route 15 on-ramp in Thurmont.

Lanora Adele Lucas will be tried Aug. 23 at Frederick County District Court.