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2 May Face Charges After Hunt for Toddler

Probe: Girl is found safe. Mother had left her with a slight acquaintance at Universal CityWalk.

September 19, 2002|WENDY THERMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles woman and an acquaintance who agreed to watch the woman's daughter for a few minutes at Universal CityWalk face possible criminal charges after police found the toddler unharmed Wednesday at the acquaintance's home.

Sheriff's Det. Ron Sabatine said "irresponsible behavior" by the two women caused at least 20 law enforcement officers to search all night for the 17-month-old girl.

"It tied up a lot of police resources and time," he said.

Sabatine said he will ask the district attorney to seek child endangerment charges against Lynette Webb, 19, of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services is also considering whether to take the child into protective custody, he said, because Webb left her daughter with someone she knew only by a first name and delayed notifying authorities of the girl's disappearance for more than an hour.

Mary Ann Hardaway, 20, of South Los Angeles could also face charges. Sabatine said she failed to contact police when she couldn't find the girl's mother.

Webb left her daughter, Destiny, with Hardaway to visit a restroom at the entertainment and shopping venue about 10:50 p.m. Tuesday, sheriff's deputies said. The two were part of a group of six or so people who knew each other only by first names.

After five minutes, Hardaway looked for the mother, but could not find her. The group thought the mother might have gone to the nearby MTA Red Line station, and Hardaway went there to look for her, authorities said.

"They were all regulars on the train," Sabatine said. "That's how they knew each other."

Hardaway could not find Webb, however, and authorities said she was worried about missing her last train home.

"It was last call, all aboard," Sabatine said. "So she decided to take the child home and figured she'd just meet up with the mother the next day at the train station."

Webb came out of the restroom and "everyone was gone," Sabatine said. It was not clear why Hardaway did not turn the child over to police, or why Webb did not contact CityWalk security guards until midnight, investigators said.

When Webb reported the child missing, she was able to give officers only first names and tell them that some in the group had been cited recently by MTA police for smoking and loitering. Law enforcement officers checked their records and found the citations.

"So we had some addresses to go on, and we began knocking on their doors," Sabatine said. The effort continued through the night. No assumption was made that the child was safe, he said. "We treat it like a crime until we know for sure it isn't."

Wednesday morning, Hardaway saw a report on the TV news and called 911. "We were three blocks away when we got the call that the child was at her house," Sabatine said.

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