Unfortunately I don't know what it is, if it's the weather or what is going on, but we've had a strange surge in the last four weeks of multiple cases that are of a similar situation. —Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill

SALT LAKE CITY — Criminal charges have been filed against two women accused of leaving their small children at home unattended.

The cases against Mary A. Gutierrez, 23, and Bobbi Jo Schantz, 26, were filed in 3rd District Court within a week of each other.

"Unfortunately I don't know what it is, if it's the weather or what is going on, but we've had a strange surge in the last four weeks of multiple cases that are of a similar situation," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Wednesday.

Schantz, of Sandy, was charged July 16 with five counts of abuse or neglect of a disabled child, a third-degree felony, for allegedly leaving her 4-year-old son alone five times between April 1 and June 25 of this year. According to the charging documents, the woman locked the child in a bedroom while she went to work because, she told police, "she does not have anyone to provide daycare and that she has to go to work."

The woman apparently told police that this has not happened more than five times. Law enforcement officers became aware of the situation after some neighbors heard the child crying.

"We had a mom who was getting ready in the morning, kissing the child goodbye, (would) give him some food and a porta potty in the room, lock him in the room and go to work," Gill said. "But for the cries of this little kid, we would have never known."

On July 18, Gutierrez was charged with four third-degree felony counts of abuse or neglect of a disabled child and a single count of tampering with a witness, a third-degree felony, for allegedly leaving her two children alone without supervision. Police responded to a call of child neglect back in July 2011 — when the children were 1 and 2 years old — and found the two children alone in an apartment.

Later, Gutierrez came home and said she "had to go to work for a minute," the charges state.

The woman later told police she had just gone to pick up her check and thought her sister was on the way over to watch her children.

On June 20 of this year, a police officer was informed of two unsupervised children and was unable to find their caregiver, prompting him to take them into protective custody, according to the charges. Gutierrez told police then that the children, now 3 and 4, were sleeping when she left the house and that she thought her father was coming to watch them.

At the end of that interview and after police officers left the room, Gutierrez is accused of calling her father and asking him to tell the police that she had called him and asked him to watch her children, but that he had fallen asleep and failed to do so, the charges state. The woman's father told police that Gutierrez had called and asked him to lie about making child care arrangements.

In both cases, a pediatrician told police that the children involved were not able to safely care for themselves. Gill said the "disabled" element of the charges speak to the children's age.

"When a child is that young they are considered disabled in the sense that they can't take care of themselves," he said. "We do know children this age can't take care of themselves, they're going to need adult supervision and support, and if you don't take care of them you can be held criminally accountable and rightfully so."

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He said the charges carry a possible penalty of zero to five years in prison. But he said the main message is that there is help for those who are struggling with child care and that those in difficult situations should take advantage of available services.

"The message we want to get out to people ... is to please contact social services because there are services available that will assist them with emergency childcare and also work with any socioeconomic status so you can afford to take care of child care issues," Gill said. "Parents need to know that there are other options before they find themselves in similar situations."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam