A teenager had been up all night drinking at a party before coming home to baby-sit her stepsister and another toddler, who both wandered outside and drowned in a nearby pond while the teen slept, state police said yesterday.
"OK im finally done drinking and im rocked lol," she text-messaged a friend -- using the shorthand for "laughing out loud" -- between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. last Wednesday, police said. A few hours later, the children were dead.
The 19-year-old sitter, Brittany N. Steward, was arrested and jailed yesterday on charges including involuntary manslaughter. A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for Monday. A man who answered the phone at her home in Waterford, just south of Erie, declined to comment.
Police gave the following account of the hours leading up to the deaths of Maggie Kovski, 2, and Ms. Steward's 20-month-old stepsister, Jenna Walker:
Ms. Steward knew she had to baby-sit Walker last Wednesday, but went to a bonfire party around 11 p.m. the night before and stayed at least until daylight.
Ms. Steward probably had five or six beers, according to a friend who had left the party at about 1:40 a.m. and got the text message.
Another person said Ms. Steward would have been in no condition to leave before 5 a.m.
Ms. Steward got home between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. to watch Jenna. She also agreed to watch Maggie, a family friend, for a few hours.
Maggie's mother, Renea Kovski, arrived around 8:10 a.m. and found Ms. Steward asleep and Jenna crying. Ms. Kovski asked Ms. Steward if she was OK and Ms. Steward said she was just tired. Ms. Kovski told Ms. Steward to nap for a bit and if she was able to watch the girls after waking, Ms. Kovski would leave.
After about 30 minutes, Ms. Kovski woke Ms. Steward and asked her repeatedly if she was all right and Ms. Steward said she was. Ms. Kovski then left.
Ms. Steward told authorities she had three beers and had gone to bed around midnight.
She said she put the girls down for a nap around 10 a.m., took a nap herself and woke around 11 a.m. when the phone rang. She said she then called for the girls and saw the garage door was open.
Ms. Steward found the girls' bodies floating in a man-made fishing pond about 150 yards from the house. She tried to perform CPR and then called 911.
In the 911 call, she gave a different account, police said. She told the dispatcher she had been outside playing with the girls when she ran inside to answer the phone and she found them in the pond when she returned.
Authorities would not say whether Ms. Steward's blood-alcohol level had been tested.
"Given the fact that she knew she had this obligation on Wednesday morning, she still went ahead and conducted herself in the manner in which she allegedly did on Tuesday evening into Wednesday, coupled with the fact that she knew of this open pond in close proximity to the house, was a major consideration in the filing of the more serious charges," Erie County District Attorney Bradley Foulk said.
Ms. Steward was charged with two counts each of involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of a child and recklessly endangering another person. She was being held in the Erie County jail on $50,000 bond. It was not immediately clear if she had an attorney.
A relative of Maggie's said the Kovski family wasn't commenting.