A Baltimore woman pleaded guilty yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court to child abuse for failing to take her 2-year-old son to the hospital after he was immersed in scalding water in a hotel bathtub and severely burned from his midsection down.
Regina G. Coffey, 26, of Waverly brushed away tears as she answered the judge's questions about whether she understood the rights she was giving up by entering a guilty plea.
She faces up to 15 years in prison after doing nothing more than applying ointment to her son's injuries when he suffered second-degree burns across almost a third of his body - injuries that she told police caused her to cry when she first examined him. "His skin was blistered and falling off," she told detectives, according to court records.
Coffey told police that she did not take the baby to the hospital or call 911 because her prepaid cell phone was out of minutes, she did not want to pay to use the phone at the hotel where she had left her son with a friend, she did not have health insurance and she was tired from working all night at the Foxy Lady Club in Baltimore, according to court documents. Public Defender Terry S. Lavenstein said that Coffey worked as an exotic dancer.
Her son, Jonah Wali Coffey, remains hospitalized at Kennedy Krieger Institute more than five months after the mother of a friend of Regina Coffey's took the boy to an emergency room with burns, a skull fracture, finger-like bruises on his face and a injury on his left thigh. Doctors have performed numerous surgeries on the toddler but remain uncertain whether his feet will need to be amputated and whether he will walk again, prosecutor Susan H. Hazlett told the judge.
"For as long as I live, I will see those photos in my mind," Hazlett, a prosecutor who handles child abuse and sexual assault cases, said in an interview, referring to photographs taken of the boy at the hospital. "I've been doing this a long time, and they are the worst photos I've ever seen."
Coffey is not charged with causing her son's burns.
Montia G. Hughes, 22, of Brooklyn Park, a woman with whom prosecutors said Coffey had a "close personal relationship," is charged with first- and second-degree child abuse for allegedly immersing the boy in scalding bath water Dec. 13 at the Ramada Inn in Loch Raven. Hughes intentionally burned Jonah because he "made her angry," either by soiling himself or "because he was acting like a typical 2-year-old," Hazlett said in court.
Hughes is scheduled to go to trial May 30. Her attorney, Jack B. Rubin, said that his client maintains her innocence.
According to court documents, Coffey called Hughes at the hotel Dec. 14 at 1 a.m. - three hours after going to work - to check on Jonah and learned that he had been burned. She told police that she left the club and, using MTA buses, made her way back to the Ramada, arriving at 4 a.m. with ointment for Jonah.
Coffey woke up at 9 a.m., and left her son with a stranger at the hotel around noon to go to McDonald's for lunch, according to court records. She made arrangements to go shopping later that day with a friend, leaving Jonah with that friend's mother, Hazlett said. It was that woman who took the boy to the hospital.
Lavenstein, the defense attorney, asked Baltimore Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Cox to order a presentence investigation with a psychiatric evaluation of his client.
"I have a feeling that Regina's background dictated her lack of parental skills," he said after the hearing. "While that certainly wouldn't be offered as an excuse, it is somewhat mitigating to explain what she didn't do."
Hazlett said she will ask for a 15-year prison sentence when Coffey is sentenced in September.