ST. PETERSBURG — Earlier this week, an 18-year-old mother stood along a busy road and held up a sign.
"Laid off cant find a job anything helps, god bless please help, happy holidays," it read.
Bridgette Patricia Baldyga of St. Petersburg had 75 cents and 11/2 pills of Xanax in her pocket. She also had her 22-month-old daughter with her.
And sometime while Baldyga was panhandling, police say, the toddler wandered into traffic. A passing motorist called authorities, telling police he had seen the child collecting money.
Baldyga was arrested about 3:45 p.m. Thursday in the 7700 block of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N. She is facing charges of child abuse and possession of a controlled substance.
"She said she needed money to provide for her daughter and normally she's a good mother, and she understands that her daughter should not be out in traffic," police spokesman Mike Puetz said.
Baldyga's mother is caring for the 22-month-old girl.
"She's not a bad person," Cara Baldyga said in a brief interview Friday night. "She's in a bad place."
It is unclear how long Baldyga spent on the side of the road before someone called police.
But she had been gone long enough for her boyfriend to go looking for her, according to a police report. Kyle Stephens, 25, told St. Petersburg police Officer James Knight he was trying to find his girlfriend, too. He was in the area pushing an empty stroller.
The person who called police, Chris Webb, also was on the scene. Webb, a child protective investigator with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, was in the area on another, unrelated case when he happened to drive by and see the young woman and the toddler.
"He saw the child over 15 feet away from Mom holding a Styrofoam cup and getting money from cars," Knight said in his report.
But Bridgette Baldyga denied her daughter was panhandling and wandering in traffic, Puetz said.
She said it was possible that her daughter toddled a few feet. She admitted the little girl was holding a purple sippy cup and was with her when she got money from a few motorists.
"She said that she did not get too much, only a few dollars, and that they spent it at Burger King," the officer wrote.
Bridgette Baldyga also told Knight that the prescription pill found in her pocket wasn't hers and must be her boyfriend's.
She admitted to struggling with addiction in the past, and was currently on methadone treatment.
"She said she never does cocaine or hard drugs," Puetz said.
The young woman did, however, say that she was pregnant. Cara Baldyga said her daughter later found out in jail that she is not pregnant.
The teen's mother acknowledged her daughter was wrong for panhandling, and for having her child with her. Cara Baldyga said her daughter isn't always mature. She said she has warned her about who she hangs out with, and wants her to get help.
Knight wrote in his report that Bridgette Baldyga mentioned wanting to get off drugs. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, she does not have a criminal record.
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