Mother of baby left in car faces charges

AUGUST 21, 2009 8:10 AM

OTTAWA — Annie Landreville gasped with relief Thursday when she heard that police had just laid charges against the woman who left her baby unattended in a hot, unlocked car on Monday. As the passerby who pulled the three-month-old girl from the sweltering car in a Rockland parking lot, Landreville called 911 because she wanted the young mother to understand just how reckless she had been.

However, Landreville gasped again — this time in shock — when she heard that the unidentified 25-year-old mother had been taken to the Rockland police detachment, fingerprinted and formally charged with two Criminal Code offences, both carrying possible jail terms.

“I would never want a woman to lose her baby,” says Landreville, 29 and the mother of an eight-year-old girl. “I don’t know this woman. Maybe her home is all wholesome and fine. Maybe she just wasn’t thinking straight for a minute. I can’t judge her.”

The lives of both young mothers — strangers to each other before their brief encounter — have been turned upside down since Monday.

First the OPP traced the mother through her licence plate and interviewed her. Then Prescott-Russell Services to Children and Adults began an investigation. A caseworker visited the mother and her family and was reassured the child was in a safe environment.

“While the investigation shows it was a bad judgment call from the mother, we just realized there is no fear at all for the baby’s safety, so we are going to close the investigation,” said Isabelle Marcil, communications co-ordinator for the agency.

However, on Thursday, the Russell detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police formally charged the mother with abandonment and failing to provide the necessities of life. She is to appear in court in L’Orignal on Sept. 30.

“Even if a child protection agency decides not to proceed, we still have our own investigation,” OPP Const. Guy Prevost said. “The investigators feel they have enough to proceed with those charges.”

Prevost said both charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, or 18 months if it is a summary conviction. There are no minimums.

While the infant’s mother can’t be identified because a child protection agency is involved in the case, Landreville’s name has been all over the media. The pharmacy technician from Rockland has been swamped with e-mails and phone calls and people have been stopping her on the street, almost all of them congratulating her for rescuing the child. Her boss has assigned a security guard to keep an eye on her at work, just in case the few who accuse her of going too far should decide to stop by.

“People are calling me the hero of Rockland, which I think is awkward,” Landreville said. “I don’t want to be congratulated, I’m not a hero. Just to know other people would have done the same thing, that’s enough for me.”

Landreville was on her lunch break Monday when she passed a car with a crying baby inside. The windows were rolled up, temperatures outside were hovering around 30C and the baby seemed to be in distress. There was no adult in sight.

Landreville contemplated calling the police first, but in the end, “I just thought ‘Get her out, go see what you can do.’”

Landreville had no idea how long the child was in the car before she arrived, but estimates five more minutes elapsed by the time she opened the unlocked car door.

“I had time to go back and forth, open the door, try to undo the car seat, then undo the seatbelt and take her tiny little arms out,” Landreville said. “My heart was pumping. I delicately took her out, put the baby on me and started turning.”

That was when the mother appeared.

“She was extremely calm and polite. She said, ‘Excuse me, ma’am, you have no right to go in people’s cars and take their babies’. I was so shocked I said, ‘You have no right to leave the baby unattended in a vehicle on such a hot day.’”

The woman asked for her baby, and Landreville handed her over.

Landreville said she called the police as the mother drove away because she felt uneasy about her reaction.

“She was so calm, so indifferent to what I was saying to her, it didn’t seem to have any impact on her,” Landreville said. “I wanted somebody louder than me to say, ‘Wake up, woman, you can’t do this.’”

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