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Woman arrested, accused of spending hours in bar while toddler sat in car

Stephanie Ward booked into Clay County jail on child neglect charge

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – A woman accused of spending hours in a Green Cove Springs bar while her toddler sat in a car outside was booked Thursday into the Clay County jail on a child neglect charge, jail records show.

A warrant on the felony charge had been issued Friday for Stephanie Ward.

Ward, 35, was booked at 7:31 p.m. Wednesday into the St. Johns County jail on the Clay County warrant, according to jail records.

The next day, jail records show, Ward was moved to the Clay County jail and booked on $25,000 bond.

Her arrest stems from a May 22 incident at Saloon 17.

Surveillance video went viral after it was posted on Facebook by Brittany Moss, a bartender at Saloon 17, who said she served Ward drinks and then tried to prevent her from getting behind the wheel hours later.

"She was getting on customers' nerves," Moss told News4Jax late last month. "She was hanging all over people. She was stumbling around, trying to make out with people."

According to the arrest warrant, Ward tried to leave the bar in her silver Infiniti SUV, but the battery was dead and she asked a patron to jump-start it. 

That's when deputies said the bartender and other witnesses spotted a small child, who was crying and sweating, in a car seat in the back of the SUV.

"I got outside and she's in her front seat bawling, crying. The back door is open," Moss previously said. "He's sweating so bad, face is red, screaming, crying. At this point, I'm saying, 'He's not OK.' I run inside to call 911."

As she called 911, investigators said, Ward drove away with the child, heading north of U.S. Highway 17 before heading south.

"The night of the incident when the complainant called in, we had an officer on scene looking for her, what we call a 'BOLO,' (or) 'Be on the lookout,'" said Deputy Christopher Padgett, spokesman for the Clay County Sheriff's Office spokesman.

The next day, the Sheriff's Office's special victims unit began looking into this case and interviewing witnesses. Detectives tracked the mother down, but said Ward was not cooperative.

"There were sometimes that he was hoping to make contact with her, and he wasn’t able to, and she refused to cooperate during that portion," Padgett said. "So she knew he was reaching out. She didn’t want to do anything with police."

Investigators worked with the Department of Children and Families early in the case to make sure the toddler was safe. 

As of Thursday, DCF told News4Jax that the investigation is still ongoing and the child continues to be under the care of relatives.

According to a condition of Ward making bail, she cannot go near Saloon 17 and she cannot have contact with the bartender. Her next court date is scheduled for Friday.

Court records show Ward faced a previous charge of fraud/false statement for public aid.

St. Johns County Sheriff's Office booking photo of Stephanie Ward
St. Johns County Sheriff's Office booking photo of Stephanie Ward

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