The Associated Press
---- — NEW CASTLE — A Pennsylvania couple accused of driving cross country with five of their children inside a moving truck’s cargo area has avoided jail time after pleading guilty to charges in Indiana.
A Henry County judge on Tuesday sentenced David and Rebecca Detjen of Fairmont City, Pa., to 18 months’ probation after accepting each of their guilty pleas to a felony charge of child neglect.
The Detjens were arrested last November at an Interstate 70 truck stop near New Castle as they were making a cross-country move to California, police said.
Officers found their children ranging in age from 9 to 18 were in the unheated cargo area with 15 caged cats amid unsecured boxes and household appliances. Temperatures were in the 30s, and police said the rental truck’s cargo area smelled of urine and gasoline.
The couple’s sentencing was delayed last month after a substitute judge said he wanted more information about the couple’s 2006 child endangerment conviction in Pennsylvania and David Detjen’s 1990 child molesting conviction in Indiana.
Henry Circuit Court Judge Mary Willis said Tuesday the Detjens had successfully completed probation for the 2006 conviction, The Courier-Times reported.
“David Detjen was 17 years old 23 years ago during the time of the child molestation conviction with a 15-year-old woman and it is not a reason to abject the plea agreement,” Willis said.
The judge ordered the Detjens to cooperate with child welfare officials in Pennsylvania, where they returned after their arrest in in the truck stop about 30 miles east of Indianapolis.
“The facts and circumstances of this case were troubling,” Willis said during the hearing. “Poor decisions were made.”
The Star Press and WRTV reported the couple declined to comment after the court hearing. The Associated Press left a telephone message Wednesday seeking comment from defense attorney Mark Stamper.
David Detjen told police in November that he had a job prospect in California, and was moving his family there.
According to court documents, he told police that he knew the travel arrangement was unsafe and that he had made a mistake.