PALM HARBOR — The mother of a 4-year-old boy who sneaked out of bed and ventured near a four-lane highway said her son is "a relentless explorer" who loves trying daring physical feats.
Millie Tibma said she usually lies in bed with her son, Daniel, until he falls asleep. But on Monday night, she left home for a few hours to attend a funeral in Odessa.
Her husband of about nine years, Peter Tibma, 54, put Daniel to bed and fell asleep.
"It's always me that puts him to bed," she said. "That was the one thing that was out of ordinary."
Daniel didn't sleep. He left his second-floor bedroom and wandered outside.
A Palm Harbor driver called 911 when he saw a child running near the East Lake Road S and Back Water Trail intersection about 8:50 p.m. Monday, deputies said.
Doug Hall, 58, told a dispatcher the boy was wearing red pajamas. Hall tried to stop him, but the boy started running north and looked scared, deputies said.
Daniel was found about 9:08 p.m. inside a gated community by a man who lives nearby. Kenneth Emery, 67, of 2032 Cove Trace flagged a deputy responding to the call and told him he had found the child.
Daniel, who turns 5 Friday, was unharmed.
When Millie Tibma returned home about 10 p.m., she said she saw a patrol car in her yard. Her husband was arrested on a charge of child neglect.
Deputies noted in an arrest report that Peter Tibma was lethargic and slurred his speech when talking to authorities, Pinellas sheriff's spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda said. They believe he had taken a prescription drug, possibly a sleeping pill.
Tibma, of 2020 Cove Trace, remained in the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday afternoon.
His wife said she hopes the charge is dropped.
"I'm a school psychiatrist, so I see children who are not receiving the care that they deserve every day and nothing's done," she said. "And in this situation … I can't imagine that anything else will happen. I will be floored if anything else happens.''
Daniel tried explaining himself the next morning, Millie Tibma said. He told his mom he couldn't fall asleep and that he missed her. Maybe he left the home to find her, she said.
"His way of handling that was definitely not the right way," she said.
She thought Daniel had changed after a family visit with her brother in Madrid over spring break. Daniel held their hands even though he wanted to break free and explore, she said.
His cooperation made her think she had her "ball of energy" trained. Then Monday night happened.
The couple had installed extra locks and chimes on house doors, she said. But she said she will have to take more extreme measures to control the boy who unlocks doors.
"He just has no fear," she said. "How much more firm can I be than I already have been?"