The mother of a toddler who was found alone on a Petaluma street corner Sunday night appeared in Sonoma County Superior Court Wednesday morning and pleaded not guilty to a felony child endangerment charge.
If convicted, Ana Laura Rendon, 23, could face six years in prison, Chief Deputy District Attorney Joan Risse said.
Her 2-year-old daughter Joana was found barefoot and crying at the corner of Kentucky and Oak streets, more than a mile from her home, shortly after 10 p.m. Sunday.
Police searched for the parents overnight and tracked down Rendon at about 9:30 a.m. Monday at her boyfriend's home on Mountain View Avenue. She admitted to drinking tequila the night before and still showed signs of intoxication, police said.
Rendon has denied having access to a car, and police are still investigating how the girl got to the corner where she was found, Lt. Tim Lyons said.
They have discounted the possibility that the girl somehow walked there. The bottoms of her feet were clean and she would have had to cross four or five busy intersections, Lyons said.
The girl's family said outside of court today that they also don't know what happened that night.
"We have more questions than we have answers right now," said Silvia Sosa, who identified herself as the toddler's aunt.
Deputy Public Defender Scott Murray said he did not know why the district attorney's office charged Rendon with a felony, rather than the misdemeanor charge on which she was arrested.
Risse did not offer specifics on the charging decision and said the case is still under investigation.
Sosa said she does not believe Rendon was at fault for putting the girl in danger.
"We don't think she has to pay for something she hasn't done," Sosa said. "They have to figure out who took the baby and who is responsible for this."
She said Joana is Rendon's only child and that the father lives in Mexico.
After court, a group of family members was headed to the Valley of the Moon Children's home in Santa Rosa where the little girl has been cared for since she was found.
Rendon will return to court July 6 for a settlement conference.