A Frederick County woman who was caught driving with three children in the trunk of her car was convicted yesterday of three counts of reckless endangerment.
Lanora A. Lucas, 37, who took the witness stand in the two-hour trial, said the children had insisted on riding in the trunk, so she flipped the rear seats down to provide access between the trunk and the passenger compartment.
"I always wanted my kids to think I was a cool mom," she said on the witness stand, explaining her motivation.
Frederick County District Court Judge W. Milnor Roberts asked for a pre-sentencing investigation of Lucas, who faces up to 15 years in prison for allowing her 9-year-old son, her 3-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old friend to ride in the trunk of her Volvo 850 sedan. She was also cited for negligent and reckless driving and driving without a license.
As her ex-husband whispered "Don't talk!" toward the witness box, Lucas went on to describe the June 4 encounter with Sgt. Shawn Tyler of the Thurmont police.
The officer had testified that he watched Lucas help her children into the trunk while parked at a store. He pulled her car over on the Route 15 ramp off Tippin Drive.
Lucas said she had rented a video game from the store and was heading to her home less than a mile away. She said she told the three children to hold still and be quiet when she saw Tyler's police cruiser coming up from behind.
"Maybe I can go ahead and get home without getting busted," she recalled thinking. She said she told her son, "Kyle, pull the seat up. Don't move. Maybe they won't know."
Assistant State's Attorney Lindell K. Angel said, "So you're worried about a seat belt violation as opposed to your kids being in the trunk of your car?"
"Right," Lucas replied.
"You're the adult in this situation, aren't you, ma'am?" Angel asked a few minutes later. Lucas's attorney, Alan Winik, objected but was promptly overruled.
"Age-wise, I'm the adult," Lucas agreed. "I like to carry on with the kids."
Earlier, Winik had asked that the case be dismissed on the grounds that the reckless endangerment law did not apply to use of a motor vehicle. Roberts threw out the motion.
Winik initially had sought to put Lucas's son, Kyle, on the witness stand, but the judge decided that the 9-year-old could be questioned privately in another room and that his responses could be presented in court.
After closing arguments, Roberts rendered his decision immediately.
"I'm convinced, convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant allowed the children to climb into the trunk of this vehicle," he said. He went on to declare Lucas guilty.
"I never comment on how things go," Winik said as a small group of Lucas's family members and friends gathered around him. Lucas, who is free until her sentencing, did not speak to reporters.
"Obviously, we're very, very pleased," Scott L. Rolle, the Frederick County state's attorney, said in an interview after the trial. "I felt it was absolutely urgent to prosecute this case successfully. . . . The tragedy that this could have caused was just indescribable."
Rolle said he had not decided how severe a punishment Lucas should receive. "We want to make sure of two things," he said. "That she gets it and that the message gets out to the community that this is not acceptable.
"The sad thing is, to me, that a lot of people these days are trying to be, quote, cool parents. We're not supposed to be cool to our kids; we're supposed to be parents. And this is a great example of that."