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Grand Forks mom faces felony after officer rescues her coatless 2-year-old

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The call came to the Grand Forks dispatch center Monday morning: A little boy was outside alone in 15-below weather.

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Five minutes later, officer Wayne Schull found a frantic and freezing 2-year-old wearing only shorts, boots and a long-sleeve shirt on the deck of a mobile home. The toddler was pounding on the door trying to get back inside.

"He had tears frozen on his cheeks and snot frozen on his upper lip," Schull said. "He was obviously in distress about not being able to get in."

Checks out healthy at Altru

Schull scooped up the boy, put him inside a heated squad car and wrapped him in a blanket. Paramedics took the boy to Altru Hospital, where he was checked over and deemed healthy.

It appears the boy let himself out and wasn't able to get back in. Authorities don't know exactly how long the boy spent outside in a wind chill that felt like 38 below.

"It couldn't have been too long," Schull said. "The kid didn't really have the beginning stages of frostbite."

Inside the house, the officer said he made another unsettling discovery. The boy's mother was passed out drunk on her bed, Schull said, oblivious to where her child was.

Jacki Vondal, 35, was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment and felony child abuse and neglect. She appeared in court via interactive television Monday afternoon.

"You know you run the risk of losing your children because of this?" asked Judge Lawrence Jahnke of the District Court.

"Yes, I know, I know," she said. "I know."

Jahnke set her bail at $3,500. A condition of her release is to abstain from drinking alcohol. Vondal told the judge she intends to take part in a treatment program.

The mother was still in the Grand Forks County Correction Center as of Monday evening, according to a jail spokesman. A message left for her there was not returned. Her next court appearance is set Jan. 21.

Schull said Vondal's son and her 5-month-old child, who also lives at the home on the 4800 block of Silvergate Drive, are in the custody of county social services.

"This could have had a very tragic outcome," he said.

Ingersoll reports on crime and courts. Reach him at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com.

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