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Sheriff's Office: Kids left in car at least 20 minutes while mom gambled at Graton casino

  • The Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park in 2013. (PD FILE, 2013)

A San Jose woman who left her two children alone in her car while she gambled at the Graton Resort and Casino near Rohnert Park was arrested late Monday night, a sheriff's official said Tuesday.

A Sonoma County sheriff's deputy patrolling the casino's parking garage in his car around 11:40 p.m. spotted the children, a 10-year-old girl and a 1-year-old boy, in a parked Honda. The girl told him their mother had gone inside and she was caring for her little brother, Sgt. Cecile Focha said in a news release. The kids were left unattended for about 20 minutes total, according to information gathered from casino surveillance footage, casino General Manager Joe Hasson said in a statement.

The car was on the upper level of the garage — the third story — and the keys were in the ignition turned to the 'on' position, according to the deputy who found the kids. He feared the children could have been in danger in a number of ways, Focha said. However, one factor that's often a concern when children are left in cars, the temperature, was a moderate 55 degrees at the time, according to a reading from a nearby National Weather Service monitoring station.

The deputy called casino security to look for the mother, later identified as Maria Yadira Mondragon-Barboza, 37. Guards found her with a recently purchased Starbucks beverage after she had been gambling, according to Focha and casino officials. The woman told the deputy she had planned to go in for a short while and didn't want to disturb her sleeping baby so left the two in the vehicle, Focha said.

“It's truly an unfortunate situation,” Hasson said, adding, “We're incredibly thankful for the swift action taken by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office as well as our security team who quickly located the mother of the children inside the facility within 10 minutes of learning what occurred,” he said. The Sheriff's Office said it took about 20 minutes to locate the mother from the time the deputy saw the children in the parking garage.

The time the kids were left in the car, combined with other circumstances such as the time of night and the location, merited the misdemeanor child endangerment charge that sent Mondragon-Barboza to jail, Sheriff's Lt. Mark Essick said.

The children were given to the care of an aunt who lives in Rohnert Park. Their mother had posted bail and been released by Tuesday afternoon.

You can reach Staff Writer Jamie Hansen at 521-5205 or jamie.hansen@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jamiehansen.

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