Mom charged after kindergarteners eat gummies with THC in Genesee Co.

Candice Williams and Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Genesee County woman was arraigned on a charge of second-degree child abuse Wednesday after THC oil-infused gummies her child allegedly took to an elementary school last week sickened pupils.

Melinda Gatica, 37, of Mount Morris Township appeared before 67th District Judge William H. Crawford, according to court officials. She pleaded not guilty.

More:Mother's THC gummies sickened students at Genesee Co. school, officials say

Crawford set bond at $25,000 personal recognizance.

A single charge of second-degree child abuse carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Melinda Gatica

Gatica, who has no criminal record, "really has been shaken to her core by this," said her attorney, Paul Scott, in a statement Wednesday.

"Melinda has been working at General Motors for 16 years and is a member of the Local 598," he told The Detroit News. "She has completely cooperated with the investigation by both Child Protective Services ... and the Genesee County Sheriff's Department. CPS has drug tested and her home has been gone through twice now. She has tested clean with no substances and there have been none found in her home."

A probe into the incident began last week when pupils at Edgerton Elementary showed symptoms including nausea and dizziness, officials said. After ruling out carbon monoxide or a natural gas leak, an investigation, which included numerous interviews, led to a mother in the kindergarten class.

Authorities initially reported more than a dozen students linked to a second-grade class at Edgerton Elementary showed symptoms. Swanson said investigators later learned a second grader "got sick at the worst time" in an unrelated illness and second-grade pupils were not affected.

Fletcher Spears, Clio Area Schools superintendent, said the sickened pupils all were in a kindergarten class, where a teacher alerted staffers.

According to authorities, Gatica infused gummies with THC oil, the addictive ingredient in marijuana, and left them out at home. Her 6-year-old found the gummies and brought them to school to share, officials said.

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson previously said investigators believed each gummy had as much as 30 milligrams of THC oil.

Four kindergarteners were taken to Hurley Medical Center in Flint. They all were  released by Sunday and back in school as of Tuesday, said Fletcher Spears, Clio Area Schools superintendent.

While recreational marijuana is legal in Michigan, the woman broke the law when leaving the edibles in a LifeSavers package easily accessible by her 6-year-old, Leyton said. 

"Nobody's saying she's a criminal," he said in a message on Facebook this week. "She made a mistake. But it's a mistake that has caused a lot of havoc in a public school district of renown. And we just can’t let that go untouched. ... You have to safeguard these products."

Scott added: "This was an unfortunate incident. CPS has not pursued removal of her children and Judge William J. Crawford made a reasonable and fair decision not to make her post any bond today at her arraignment as she was released on her own recognizance."

Gatica has a probable cause conference scheduled for May 12 "and we look forward to continuing cooperating with the process and coming to a fair resolution for all involved," Scott said. "She is an outstanding mother who has been deeply affected by this situation."

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN