Skowhegan police have charged a woman with endangering the welfare of a child after video surfaced last week on social media showing her driving and talking on her cellphone even as an unbuckled toddler played in the front seat of the moving car.

Jennifer Beane, 33, of Bingham, was summonsed Saturday on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child, according to Skowhegan Police Chief Joel Cummings, who also said the case was referred to the state Department of Human Services for review.

The woman who recorded the video Wednesday evening, Lauren Hartsock, posted it on the site of a public Facebook group called Skowhegan Neighborhood Watch and then notified Skowhegan police.

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

The video and a subsequent post on the Somerset County Sheriff’s Facebook page blew up on Facebook. The original video garnered more than 400 “likes” and about 100 comments before an administrator blocked the outpouring of negative comments. The sheriff’s office post had more than 500 “likes” plus more than 100 comments and more than 100 shares.

Skowhegan Interim Police Chief Joel Cummings said Beane was summonsed shortly after 6 p.m. on Saturday by the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office. She will appear in district court in Skowhegan on Aug. 16 on a charge of endangering a child, a Class D misdemeanor for which Beane could face up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

The case has been forwarded to the Somerset County District Attorney for review, Cummings said, and also to the Department of Health and Human Services.

DHHS spokeswoman Samantha Edwards declined to comment on the case Monday, saying the department won’t comment on specific cases.

“Any allegations of child neglect/abuse would be investigated and assessed by the Department’s Office of Child and Family Services,” Edwards said by email.

Cummings said the DHHS would take a “broader view” of the care of the child, not just of the events depicted in the video but of the overall care and welfare of the child. He did not know the age of the child, but said it was Beane’s child.

“It’s unknown if there are other children in the residence under her care,” Cummings said, but that may be something the DHHS looks into.

The case was handled by Skowhegan Officer David Bucknam.

Somerset County Sheriff’s deputies attempted to make contact with Beane last week after they traced the vehicle back to a home in Bingham. They were unable to make contact with anyone at that time, but Cummings said the vehicle was in the driveway when the deputies stopped in for the first attempt.

“The deputy said it appeared obvious people were there,” Cummings said, but he did not know if police have had to deal with Beane before.

When news of the summons was posted to the Skowhegan Neighborhood Watch Facebook group, online commenters again turned negative toward Beane. One commenter posted, “Lets hope she loses that kid because unrestrained toddler in that car is a recipe for disaster.”

Another Facebook user wrote, “Its great that they are taking the step to have her pay for her actions. This may be a small ‘mistake’ as some may say (not me by the way) but its situations like this right here where if you (sic) dont put a stop to it an do something about it then it can lead to other careless acts as a parent like leaving child in car. Parents need to be broke of these habits, these innocent lil kids depend on us to make sure they are safe and out of harms way. If she neglects to buckle her child what else does she neglect to do??”

Overall, the post about Beane’s summons garnered far less social media traffic than the initial post of the video. 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.”

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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