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Toddler left alone for three days, police say

In the months before she had her baby, Lisa Stepp was battling a crack cocaine addiction.

She got help and had a baby boy in November 1998.

But on Monday night, after police said she left 14-month-old Nicholas alone in a crib for at least part of three days, Stepp was arrested and charged with child neglect and fleeing and eluding police.

Nicholas, who suffered dehydration, was treated and released Monday night from All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. He is in the custody of Stepp's mother, Camille Stepp, 69.

Police declined to release details of the case Tuesday, citing an ongoing investigation. A press release issued Tuesday said Stepp "left the child unsupervised and uncared for for approximately three days." Police think Stepp was on a crack cocaine binge while she was gone.

Sgt. Mike Darroch said detectives are talking with witnesses to determine whether 31-year-old Stepp had someone care for her child during part of the time she was gone.

"We're trying to figure out if the mother went back in the intervening time or if someone else went back," Darroch said. "What we're doing is trying to gather as much as we can from every source so we can determine how long the child was alone."

Stepp was in the Pinellas County Jail Tuesday night in lieu of $15,000 bail.

A woman who answered the telephone at Camille Stepp's home Tuesday refused to talk about Stepp's arrest.

The child neglect investigation began at 9:15 a.m. Monday when Pinellas Park police received a telephone call from Camille Stepp. She wanted police to check on her daughter and grandson.

"She alleged that her daughter was binging," Darroch said.

A patrol officer who went to Stepp's apartment at 6601 121st Ave. D got no answer and put out an alert for her.

While police were searching, Stepp called a friend, who notified Stepp's mother that the baby might be alone, police said.

The friend and Stepp's mother went to Stepp's apartment and found Stepp breaking a window to get inside because she did not have a key, police said.

After an argument, police said, they all went back to Camille Stepp's house at 9426 60th St. N. When police arrived soon after, the baby was there but Stepp had left.

Officers later saw Stepp driving, but when they attempted a stop, she sped to her mother's house, where she was arrested.

Stepp's criminal record goes back to 1992 when she was convicted of possession of marijuana, according to court records. In 1994, she pleaded guilty to possession of crack cocaine and received a year's probation. She violated probation six months later when she was arrested and charged with possession of crack cocaine.

Child protection authorities say Stepp got assistance from the Salvation Army for her addiction in 1998 while she was pregnant with Nicholas. She again got help in 1999 when she relapsed and a warrant was issued for her arrest. She left Nicholas with family members then.

_ Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.