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Mother charged in August drowning death of child

The mother of a 2-year-old girl who drowned in the Allegheny River in August has been charged with endangering the welfare of children.

Patti Jo Vargason, 39, 215 Valley View Lane, was charged by Pennsylvania State Police on Wednesday.

The incident occurred on August 21.

Troopers say in the affidavit of probable cause that a call was forwarded to them from Vargason via the 911 Center and, during that call, she told police she believed her daughter was in the river and could not be located. Several troopers responded to the area in light of that information.

Once on scene, troopers spent several minutes walking down the riverbank but did not locate the missing child. They found the river “very high and muddy from the amount of rain received several days prior to this incident,” police allege in the affidavit.

An investigator returned to the residence and spoke with Vargason. Police learned that one of Vargason’s sons, a 5-year-old mae, had been with the child that drowned “at the time and at the exact location” she entered the river.

Troopers tried to speak with the boy but were “unable to obtain and clear information from him.

“I took (the 5-year-old) by the hand and asked him to show me the location” the girl went into the river. He “took me across Valley View Lane almost directly across from his residence to a wooden dock that was somewhat out/over the Allegheny River,” per the affidavit.

Troopers say the 5-year-old “then pointed at the river and said something I was not able to understand, but again pointed at the river.”

While troopers, volunteer firefighters, a state police helicopter, a K9 and neighbors all searched, a recorded interview was conducted with Vargason.

She, according to the affidavit, described the clothing the child was wearing and that information was relayed to the search units.

Vargason, police allege, said she last saw the 2-year-old between 10:20 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., telling police she woke up and could hear children playing downstairs. She said the 2-year-old was in a pack and play next to her bed and was asleep.

She then told police her son “woke her up at 11:00 screaming (that the 2-year-old) fell into the river.” She allegedly reported to police that her two oldest children had gone outside to play and that the 5-year-old also showed her where the 2-year-old entered the river.

Troopers say Vaegason told them that the 5-year-old said he tried to get the 2-year-old out of the water but could not. She reportedly told police that the 5-year-old knows how to open the gate she is assuming that he opened the gate and let everyone out.

Police then quote her directly in the affidavit: “And today obviously Mommy slept in because I’m tired. I got all these kids. I’m tired. That’s no excuse, but.”

Search efforts involved the state police, a state police helicopter, Tidioute, Tionesta, and Hickory volunteer fire departments, McKean County Tracking Canine, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the McKean County Special Operations Group Dive Team, and numerous individuals.

The outflow at Kinzua Dam was reportedly reduced dramatically to facilitate the search. A tracking dog was used to follow the child’s scent

The 2-year-old’s body was located in a debris pile a mile south from where she was believed to have fallen into the river the following day.

Troopers say in the affidavit that an autopsy reported the cause of death to be drowning.

Vargason faces two counts of third-degree felony endangering the welfare of children.

No preliminary hearing has yet been scheduled according to online court records.

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