A Montana man accused of crashing his car and then leaving an infant in the freezing woods for about nine hours entered a guilty plea this week.
Francis Carlton Crowley, 32, appeared in court for the first time in July to face charges that included assault on a minor and criminal endangerment. Crowley stands accused of crashing a car while high on methamphetamine and bath salts, and then abandoning a 5-month-old child in the detritus near the crash site, local outlet The Missoulian reports. A search party was ultimately able to locate the child, face-down in a pile of sticks but miraculously alive after having spent around nine hours alone in the woods, according to the outlet.
Crowley, who is reportedly the child’s uncle, initially pleaded not guilty in July, Oregon Live reports. He changed his plea on Tuesday, pleading guilty to criminal endangerment and child criminal endangerment and pleading no contest to assault on a child, according to The Missoulian’s report. Crowley was also charged with endangering the welfare of a child after the child’s hair tested positive for meth, but that charge has since been dropped, per the outlet.
He is reportedly scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on March 12.
Police first encountered Crowley after responding to a call in the Lolo Hot Springs area reporting a man behaving strangely, threatening others, and speaking about a missing baby, according to The Missoulian. Crowley, reportedly still high on drugs, referenced a baby being buried but his statements were erratic, the outlet reports.
Authorities searched the Montana woods for hours hoping to locate the child, the Associated Press reports. Missoula County Sheriff’s Deputy Ross Jessop eventually came across the child at around 2:30 a.m. — cold, wet, and soiled, but alive.
“I abandoned any police training or any chance of saving evidence there — I didn’t care,” Jessop said, according to the outlet. “I scooped up the baby, made sure he was breathing. He had a sparkle in his eye. [I] warmed him up, gave him a couple of kisses and just held him.”
The infant, who survived temperatures as low as 46 degrees, coughed up small sticks en route to the hospital, where he was treated for dehydration and other minor injuries, the Associated Press reports.
Crowley previously told investigators that he left the child in the woods because he was “heavy,” according to court records. During his first court appearance, Crowley reportedly broke down in tears, telling the judge, “I love that f--king kid,” according to the Associated Press.
The child’s miraculous rescue was a bright spot for law enforcement officials involved in the search. The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a Facebook statement that the discovery provided a “little light” in what can be a “dreary” profession.
“It’s easy to look at the world as a dark place, but we have seen so many people come together for one single reason...humanity. Thank you to those who have reached out, sent prayers to this little baby, sent your thoughts. It matters. Thank you,” its statement reads.
The child was placed in the care of Child and Family Services after being found, the office said.
[Photo: Missoula County Jail]
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