SALEM, Mass. — A Lawrence mother whose 14-month-old baby swallowed a fentanyl-tainted pill left on the floor admitted to a child endangerment charge Thursday in Salem Superior Court.
But under an agreement between Jennifer Ouch's attorney and Essex County prosecutors, the charge was continued without a finding for 18 months and will be dismissed if Ouch, 28, remains compliant with conditions set by the Department of Children and Families and stays out of further trouble. She will be supervised by a probation officer.
Ouch and her boyfriend, McDanner Pereyra, 28, were arrested after Lawrence police were called to Lawrence General Hospital on Feb. 18 about a baby that had ingested fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that has been blamed for numerous overdose deaths in Massachusetts.
Initially, Ouch and Pereyra told investigators that the baby had swallowed a blue pill she found on the floor of the Methuen Target, prosecutor Lindsay Nasson told Salem Superior Court Judge Thomas Drechsler during a hearing Thursday.
Police then spoke to the couple's older child, a 6-year-old boy, who revealed the truth: his baby sister had been in the carriage the entire time they were in the store, and that she'd actually found the blue pill in their home.
Nasson said that Pereyra, who is still awaiting trial, told investigators that he came up with the story because they feared that DCF would take their children away.
During a search, police found bags of what they initially reported to be fentanyl. Nasson said on Thursday that the powder actually turned out to be a different drug, which she identified as being in the same category as prescription medications.
Investigators also found ammunition and magazines and are still pursuing firearms charges against Pereyra along with the child endangerment charges.
"I do feel that her co-defendant (Pereyra) is more culpable," said Nasson, who told the judge that he's taken responsibility for the ammunition found in the apartment, at 65 Osgood St.
Ouch, a Lowell native, told the judge that she has an associate's degree in business and had been working as a social worker with elderly people before her arrest.
Her lawyer, Stephen Neyman, noted that she has no prior record. He said she is hopeful to return to work after the case is dismissed.
Judge Thomas Drechsler said he would go along with the agreement but warned that should she fail to follow any of the conditions or commit a new offense, Ouch could face up to 2 1/2 years in jail.
The remaining charges related to fentanyl trafficking and ammunition against Ouch were dropped by the district attorney's office.
Pereyra is due back in court on Jan. 9 in his case.