INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana prosecutors charged a Pennsylvania couple with neglect Thursday for allegedly forcing five of their seven children to ride 400 miles in a rental truck’s unheated cargo area filled with the stench of gasoline fumes and cat feces.
Prosecutors say David K. Detjen, 41, and Rebecca S. Detjen, 40, put the five children ages 9 to 18 into the back of the truck packed with the family’s belongings, including 15 caged cats, for a cross-country trip to California.
The couple had driven about 400 miles Wednesday from their Fairmount City, Pa., home to eastern Indiana when they were arrested.
State police acting on an anonymous tip staked out Interstate 70 in the east-central part of the state, watching for vehicles matching the moving truck’s description.
The Detjens were arrested Wednesday night after a state trooper followed their vehicle into a truck stop near New Castle in Henry County.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Rebecca Detjen denied there were any children in the truck’s cargo area.
But David Detjen told the officer some of his children were inside and opened the truck’s gate to reveal three children lying next to a box freezer in the cargo area. Two other children were seated on top of a pile of unsecured boxes and household appliances piled 8 feet high.
The affidavit states that the outdoor temperature was 32 degrees and the cargo area was so cold the trooper could see the youngsters’ breath. The cargo area also contained two gasoline cans with what appeared to be small amounts of gas and the 15 cats in feces-filled cages or carriers.
Three other cats were in the truck’s cab.
There was a very putrid odor coming from the trailer that smelled of animal urine and feces and gasoline, the document states.
The Detjens face one count each of neglect of a dependent and were being held at the Henry County Jail.
They are good parents, but they made a very bad decision, said David Detjen’s stepsister, Cynthia Balzomo of Las Vegas. I’m pretty upset with them.