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No charges for mother who abandoned severely disabled daughter at bar

An Illinois mother won't face charges after she left her severely mentally disabled daughter at a Tennessee bar. WBIR's John Henry reports.

A mother who drove to a bar in Tennessee and left her severely mentally disabled daughter there before zipping back home to Illinois is not expected to face any charges, police said Wednesday.

Eva Cameron, of Algonquin, Ill., stopped in Caryville, Tenn., on June 28 and left 19-year-old Lynn, whose vocabulary and mental capacity is no more than that of a 3-year-old, at The Big Orange Bar with no money, ID, or other belongings.

"[Lynn] couldn't tell us anything. She couldn't tell us her name," Caryville Police Chief Johnny Jones told msnbc.com on Wednesday. She was physically healthy and showed no signs of abuse, but Jones said Lynn was nervous and "scared to be thrown out at the bar."

"People at the bar said it looked like the door opened and somebody pushed her in," Jones said.

Police plastered Lynn's photo everywhere, hoping someone would be able to identify her. She wasn't a known face in Caryville, a town with a population of about 2,300 people about an hour outside of Knoxville.

In the meantime, not knowing Lynn's age -- investigators estimated she was between 15 and 20 -- the state's department of child services took custody of her.

More than 200 tips were called into Caryville's five-officer police department. On Monday, an Illinois bus driver who used to shuttle kids to a school for children with developmental disabilities contacted officials to say she recognized Lynn.

Police then contacted Eva Cameron, who returned to Caryville on Tuesday to acknowledge abandoning her daughter.

"The mother comes here yesterday and says, 'I don't want her. Do what you want to with her,'" Jones said. "She told my assistant that if the state of Tennessee doesn't want her, she'll be Kentucky's problem."

A hearing held on Tuesday in Campbell County determined no criminal charges were applicable in the case due to the fact that Lynn, despite having a much younger mental capacity, is an adult at 19, and therefore her mother no longer technically has legal guardianship over her. Lynn was handed over to the state of Tennessee; Eva drove back home to Illinois, where she has other children.

Jones said the prosecutor's decision came as a shock.

"We had all planned on charging the mother. Then I checked with the district attorney, and she said she didn't violate any Tennessee laws," he said.

Lynn is now with adult protective services.

"I have not been able to sleep worrying about the girl," he said. "She's in real good care now. That's the only good thing that came out of this: I know she'll be taken care of."

A loophole in the law
It's not clear why Eva chose to drop her daughter off in Caryville. She initially told police she stopped at the bar to let Lynn use the bathroom, but security footage from a nearby Waffle House earlier in the evening shows Lynn entering the Waffle House's restroom. 

Eva, who couldn't be reached by msnbc.com, told Illinois' Northwest Herald on Tuesday that her church had directed her to Caryville because it had a large concentration of Baptists. She also said Tennessee "has the No.1 health care system in the United States of America," and she wanted Lynn to have the best care.

She added that she thought all the attention was "just a big hoopla out of nothing."

Jones disagrees, and said he's trying to get Tennessee laws changed so nothing like this can ever happen again. 

"Something needs to be done. These people need to be taken care of," he said. "I'm going to check with the U.S. Attorneys' office and see if there's any violation that she may have done by taking her from Chicago to Tennessee with her being mentally handicapped, see if there's any federal laws."

Ben Harrington, executive director of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee, told msnbc.com that the Tennessee community is "just livid" that Eva isn't being punished for leaving Lynn.

"The law has been exposed as a problem," Harrington said. "This is a loophole in the law: If she were a minor child, I'm assuming legal charges would be filed."

Harrington said it's "not unheard of" for people caring for developmentally disabled family members to walk away from them, but he said they usually drop them off at a state hospital or institution -- not a bar.

Police have not said whether Eva's other children have disabilities. The Northwest Herald reported she doesn't have a criminal background in her county other than traffic tickets.

Harrington said there are ways to prepare adequate care for loved ones with disabilities as they age out of being minors: For example, one can assign a health care proxy or guardianship to someone else, similar to what families of an aging parent with Alzheimer's might do if the parent no longer has the capability to make important decisions.

Communicating with the appropriate state authorities to come up with a plan before a developmentally disabled child reaches 18 is crucial, he said.

"There are state dollars here in Tennessee that are allowing home health aides to come in and help with hygiene, health care, feeding, dressing," he said. "It's not 24 hours a day, but it might be a very valuable respite for the family for an eight-hour period."

Illinois, where Eva Cameron lives, has an array of services available too, he said.

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