Tessie L. Clark, the 28-year-old mother of a 3-year-old boy, was charged with felony child neglect Tuesday (Feb. 16) after the boy was found wandering around Palm Coast’s B-Section unsupervised for an hour around midday.
A 35-year-old resident of the B-Section who was driving in the area of Beechwood Lane alerted authorities after seeing the child wandering the streets with a small dog, just 50 yards from Belle Terre Parkway. A lawn crew and another resident in the area told the Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy who responded that they’d seen the child walking about alone for about half an hour.
The child himself had no shoes on and was covered in dirt, according to a sheriff’s report. He could not understand the deputy who asked him questions, having a “very limited vocabulary.” (Children that age generally command only about 200 words or so). Several additional deputies canvassed the area, going door to door to find the child’s home.
As they were doing so and the child was in one of the deputies’ protective custody, Sandra Elswick, the child’s maternal grandmother, drove up in a vehicle. She “got out of her vehicle and immediately began yelling at [the toddler],” saying that her pregnant daughter was at home, looking for him. Deputies then went to the house itself at 58 Beechwood Lane. By then another deputy had seen Clark walking in the area of 38 Beechwood, where she told the deputy she was looking for her lost son.
Clark told deputies that she would generally let her son play in the backyard unsupervised, and had done so on Tuesday to go back in, ostensibly to do some cleaning. The backyard is fenced in. But the fence is damaged. A deputy asked her how long she’d left him unsupervised that day before checking on him. “I’m not going to lie,” she allegedly responded. “It’s been a little bit.”
As she led a deputy through the house on their way to the backyard to check the fence, the deputy noted the neglect inside the house: “It appeared to be dirty, extremely uncared for, and had ketchup packets busted open and smeared on the floors,” the deputy reported. “The inside of the residence reeked of marijuana.” Clark later allegedly admitted to one of the deputies that she smokes pot. The rear of the residence’s screened-in porch had a damaged door with visible nails sticking out, while the backyard “had multiple hazards for young children including large rocks, deep holes in the ground, and a trampoline. The fence appeared to be older and unstable,” with a missing panel. Clark told the deputy she thought that’s how her child got out.
Clark was asked various questions–what had prompted her to leave the child unsupervised, what she was cleaning, what she was doing when she realized her child was missing. Her arrest report notes she was evasive and would not initially give information about her other children, fearing that the Department of Children and Families would get involved and take them away. When she realized her child was missing, she called her mother then went outside to look for him, though she did not call law enforcement.
As the deputies were conducting their investigation, Steven Guy, the child’s father, returned home, upset. He told deputies that Clark normally sleeps during the day and lets the boy roam around the house unsupervised. Guy’s interactions with deputies then deteriorated, according to Clark’s arrest report. “He became agitated with the situation and advised me that if the Department of Children and Families came to his residence,” the investigating deputy reported, “he would tell them to ‘fuck off’ and then leave the state with his children.”
The Department of Children and Families was advised of the situation and responded to the Beechwood Lane house to conduct its own investigation.
Clark was arrested and charged with child neglect, a felony. She was subsequently released on her own recognizance, and ordered as part of her pre-trial release order not to consume alcohol or drugs, though she was not prevented from having contact with the victim or her children. She is to be arraigned on March 8.
“We’re very thankful to the witnesses who came forward and called us when they saw this small child alone in the street,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in a statement. “Luckily the child did not wander onto Belle Terre Parkway or we could have had a much more tragic outcome. I hope DCF is able to teach the parents proper parenting skills and how to be responsible parents to their children.”