A mother who left her four young children unsupervised in a public park more than two hours Tuesday afternoon faces charges of negligent child abuse, Winter Haven police said.
The boys, ages 6 to 8, had walked about a half-mile from their home to Lake Maude Nature Park, located along busy Seventh Street Northeast and next two large lakes, police said.
While they played, one child became stuck in a toddler swing, and an officer who was observing the park had to call the fire department to extricate him, police said.
The mother, 28-year-old Ashley Richardson, eventually returned to the park and was arrested, police said. She told police it took longer than expected for her to return from a church food bank, according to an arrest affidavit.
About noon, the officer was on routine patrol when she noticed the children unsupervised at the park, 1751 Seventh St. N.E., according to the affidavit.
The children soon waved her over because the 8-year-old’s legs were caught between the seat divider of the swing. The officer attempted to free the youngster but could not, so she called the Winter Haven Fire Department, the affidavit said.
At the time, the boys said they could not tell the officer where they lived. The officer said she remained as the boys played again, at various times playing football near the road, jumping from a 5-foot-tall roadside park sign and getting in water along the lakefront.
The children then told the officer they walked to the park in the morning and had no way to contact their mother, the affidavit said. They finally gave their names and ages and said they lived across Avenue T.
At that point, the officer called for backup to help find the mother.
That’s when Richardson arrived at the park in her vehicle, the affidavit said.
Police Chief Chief Gary Hester said the officer “gave ample opportunity for an adult to come forward.”
It is still unclear where the food bank is located, police said.
“For anyone to think it is OK to allow small children to walk almost a half-mile alone across a heavily traveled road, not to mention left in unsafe conditions, is criminal,” Hester said.
Richardson, of 1914 Fairfax Court N.E., was booked at the Polk County Jail on four counts of negligent child abuse without bodily harm.