SKOWHEGAN — A video that’s gone viral on social media of a woman talking on a cellphone and driving while a toddler plays in the passenger seat without a seat belt has drawn the attention of police and sparked public outcry over child endangerment.

The woman who recorded the Wednesday evening video, Lauren Hartsock, posted it in a public Facebook group called Skowhegan Neighborhood Watch. In her post, Hartsock says she tried unsuccessfully to get the driver’s attention and ultimately reported the incident to Skowhegan police.

Hartsock said at first she wanted to call the police but decided it would be best to take a video of the incident as evidence. The video shows the other driver accelerate while on the phone, and the young boy in the front seat falls back into the seat because he is unbuckled.

“I was waving my arms out the window, I was yelling, and she kept going,” Hartsock said in an interview Thursday. She said the driver was “not aware of her surroundings at all. She didn’t even see me.”

The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office is assisting in the Skowhegan police investigation. Somerset Chief Deputy Jim Ross said his department was called in to help locate the driver and they were able to trace the vehicle to a residence in Bingham, but no one would come to door there. He said that information was passed on to the Skowhegan Police Department.

He said police are not releasing the name of the driver, who would not face criminal charges immediately, but rather a traffic violation.


Attempts to reach the driver for comment were unsuccessful. Skowhegan police Interim Chief Joel Cummings was unavailable for comment.

Hartsock said she was in the passenger sea of a car with her wife Wednesday evening on Madison Avenue. She said they were sitting at a red light when her wife, who was driving their car, looked over and noticed a toddler in the car next to them who was unbuckled and in the front seat. The woman in that car was on the phone and apparently distracted.

Hartsock said she attempted to get the driver’s attention multiple times, both by pulling up next to the minivan she was driving and also getting in front of it. The driver with the toddler finally turned at the Rite Aid store on Madison Avenue.

The video was posted to a Facebook group called Skowhegan Neighborhood Watch.

“I just wish people weren’t distracted drivers and were paying attention,” Hartsock said.

The video and a subsequent post from the sheriff’s office, which raised concerns about online comments, have blown up on Facebook. The original video garnered more than 250 “Likes” and about 100 comments before an administrator eventually turned off the ability to comment on the video, while the sheriff’s office post had more than 500 “Likes,” 65 comments and 70 shares.


But the Somerset County Sheriff’s Facebook post, written by Detective Mike Ross, said that while the video was troubling, the comments under it were equally as troubling.

“I just read the beginning of a real-life lynch mob, and that is concerning,” Ross wrote. “First of all, a child not wearing a seat belt is a traffic violation, and is not an arrestable offense, so let’s get that out in the open. It is certainly not an offense that is punishable by death, so let’s put the torches and pitchforks away. There may be some other issues here, and that is something that the Somerset County District Attorney’s Office and Skowhegan PD need to talk about.”

Some online commenters took issue with the sheriff’s office post, saying the driver should face more than a traffic violation ticket, drawing a response: “All we are saying is that people need to relax a bit, be patient, and let the police investigate this incident. Again, there may be more than just a traffic violation here, but that is up to the District Attorney’s Office to decide.”

Facebook users also posted a number of comments about the welfare of the child, saying the driver should not have put the young boy in a situation to get hurt.

One commenter wrote: “This is how kids die. It’s happened more times anyone can count. Not a situation to be taken lightly, especially when caught red handed. This is more than just a traffic violation, but the police can only do so much. This is something that (the Department of Health and Human Services) needs to handle.”

Another wrote: “I don’t want to see her kids get (taken) from her but I do think that something serious needs to happen so she doesn’t make poor judgment when it comes to her child’s safety again.”


Hartsock said she did not expect the video to go viral, but she was glad people saw it and commented. While she said she wasn’t trying to shame or humiliate the other driver, she wanted to get the video out there so hopefully she wouldn’t do it again.

Hartsock said if the driver had been in an crash or had to stop suddenly, the young boy in the car could have been hurt.

“This is not OK; it’s child endangerment,” she said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: