Something wasn’t right, Forest Lake police investigator Luke Hanegraaf thought as he investigated a report of a child with first and second degree burns over 40 percent of her body.
When Hanegraaf arrived at Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul on that March day, the mother of the 20-month old child was not there.
At the hospital, the investigator learned from medical personnel that the incident has been explained as an accident that happened when the mother and child were scalded with extremely hot water while showering together at their apartment in Forest Lake, yet the mother had no burns on her body.
The investigator also learned that the mother had not sought immediate treatment for the infant after the child was burned on the afternoon of March 17, 2009.
Now more than three months later, following an extensive police investigation, the mother faces six felony charges in the case.
On June 10, authorities in Washington County charged Chelsea Marie Amber, 21, of 664 SW 12th St., with the six felony counts. She faces two charges for melicious punishment of a child, two third-degree assault charges, one count of endangering a child in a situation that could cause death or substantial harm, and one count of neglect of a child.
If convicted, Amber faces a possible sentence that could result in fines of $10,000 and five years in prison (five counts) and $5000 and 10 years in prison the neglect charge.
The Forest Lake woman was never arrested and now awaits a July 8 court date in Stillwater following the formal signing of the complaint and summons on June 10.
The infant, who will be 24 months old on July 28, was taken into protective custody immediately following the incident. She remained hospitalized from March 17 to April 15 and was intubated for 11 days.
She has been placed in the custody of family members of the child’s biological father.
“The infant is doing extremely well and is in a safe environment,” Hanegraaf said.
According to the criminal complaint, Amber told police the incident happened between 4-4:30 p.m. on March 17 when the two were showering and were hit with an unexpected blast of extremely hot water. The defendant said she fell twice trying to get out of the shower with the infant.
According to the complaint, Amber took the child to Fairview Lakes in Wyoming at 7:45 p.m. on March 17 after the infant began to experience seizures and was bleeding from the mouth. The child had burns on her face, neck and body. The infant was transferred by ambulance to Gillette at 1 a.m. the next morning.
The complaint said that a review of medical records alleges that the child had a prior history of seizures “but was not being given her medication.” The medical records review also revealed “a remote healed fracture on her right leg” and that the infant was treated for a swollen right foot on Jan. 18, 2009.
The mother was advised by police to take the infant to the doctor to have foot checked, but never did so, the complaint alleges.
Hanegraaf said the mother was cooperative and said multiple times that the incident was an accident.
According to the complaint, authorities concluded that hot water at 118 degrees “could have caused the scalding burns” on the infant, but there would have had to been “exposure to the water for a substantial period of time.”
In the complaint, officials said a medical consultant from the Region’s Hospital Burn Center confirmed the 118 degree scalding possibility and also stated that the defendant would “also have burns on her body,” the complaint said.
Police in Forest Lake said the incident is one of the most serious they have encountered in recent years involving a child.
“The severity comes from the age of the child,” Hanegraaf said.
Proceedings are also in place for a permanent termination of parental rights for the mother, police said.