Charge reduced for woman who left child in car

A Burlingame woman accused of leaving her 2-year-old son in a sweltering car while she shopped for groceries accepted a plea agreement Wednesday that reduced the felony child endangerment charge she faced to a misdemeanor.

Barbara Stepaniuk, 32, pleaded no contest and was expected to be released from San Mateo County Jail on her own recognizance Wednesday afternoon. She had been held on $50,000 bail since her Aug. 30 arrest at a Redwood City grocery store.

Assistant District Attorney Morley Pitt said he decided to reduce the charge based on the fact that the child was not injured, and after numerous friends and neighbors of Stepaniuk’s wrote letters describing her as a loving and dedicated mother.

“It appears this was an isolated incident,” Pitt said.

Temperatures were in the low 90s when Stepaniuk left her toddler in the car with one window crackedabout 2 inches, prosecutors said. Five to 10 minutes after passers-by rescued the crying child from the vehicle, the temperature inside the car reportedly measured 125 degrees. Stepaniuk was inside the grocery store for about 20 minutes, prosecutors said. Public Defender Scott Neubold said Stepaniuk may have been gone only about 10 minutes.

Stepaniuk, who wore an orange jail uniform, listened to the proceedings Wednesday through a Polish interpreter and spoke only to say she understood the charges.

She will return to court Nov. 24 for sentencing. With credit for time served, she will receive no more than 15 days in jail, said Neubold.

Stepaniuk’s probation will likely include parenting classes “to further educate her to the dangers of leaving a child inside a locked car,” Neubold said, who added that the toddler has been in the custody of his father and Stepaniuk is eager to see him.

“Not seeing him has been the hardest part,” he said.

Stepaniuk’s original felony charge carried up to six years in prison, though prosecutors said they never planned to seek the maximum sentence. Neubold suggested Stepaniuk’s charges may have been unusually stiff because she was arrested on the heels of two well-publicized deaths of toddlers forgotten inside cars.

The week before Stepaniuk’s arrest, a Napa County woman was charged with involuntary manslaughter after allegedly forgetting her daughter was in her car for six hours. In July, a Benicia boy died in a similar incident.

tbarak@examiner.com

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