Incident with stranger leads to discussion with children, neighbors
CHAMPAIGN — Peggy Loftus is pretty sure her guardian angel was working overtime about two weeks ago when a man approached two of her children in southwest Champaign, apparently with sinister intentions.
Her son and daughter were in the front yard of their home in the 1400 block of Country Lake Drive playing with squirt guns. They were reloading from a bucket of water near the house, she said.
"I was up in the bedroom facing the front yard. My guardian angel said, 'You need to get up and look out the window right now.' Something made me get up," she said, unable to specify what stirred her.
It was about 4 p.m. on June 26, she recalled, when she saw a man getting out of a black sedan. He had a neon orange neck warmer pulled up around his mouth and nose, obscuring his face.
"He was getting out of the car and had his phone out and was gesturing toward the kids," she said.
She immediately screamed her husband's name and headed downstairs. The man who had his eyes on her 6-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter must have heard her, she said. The weather was nice enough that their windows were open.
"He took off (in his car) like a bullet. He tore down Mayfair then to Devonshire to Mattis. He squealed his tires when he hit the corner," she said.
Her children didn't move, she said. As practitioners of tae kwon do, they've been counseled in stranger danger. Her son said, in his own way, that the man was exposing himself.
"Thankfully, in the world of a 6-year-old boy, if you're holding yourself, it's because you have to go potty," she said.
Loftus said she called Champaign police but was unable to give the officer much of a description of the man. Neither did she have any license plate number for the car.
Loftus said the extremely hot weather — and her children's recent joint purchase of a Wii — has had them indoors most of the time since the man's approach.
"I want the kids to be outside. I encourage them to go out without me. It took me back," she said of the incident.
She said she and her husband talked with their three children at the dinner table about what happened and have spread the word among neighbors.
"We definitely go out in pairs and keep an eye out for strangers," she said.
Deputy Police Chief Joe Gallo confirmed that an officer was dispatched to a call of a suspicious vehicle but did not write a report about the incident. Gallo said he planned to talk to the officer to find out why.
Gallo confirmed there were no other reports similar to the one made by Loftus to police around that time.
The last report Champaign police received of a man trying to get a child to go with him happened in April at Market Place Mall, where a man asked a 14-year-old boy to go outside with him.
Urbana police arrested a 73-year-old Greenup man in late May for allegedly trying to lure children into his pickup truck in the 1300 block of Silver Street. Bennie Hays has been in jail since his arrest awaiting trial.