- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - An 18-year-old woman whose young daughter was burned in an explosion related to drug-making is charged with child endangerment and other counts for allegedly hiding evidence and collecting drug payments on behalf of her boyfriend, who is accused of causing the blast.

Virginia Marie Ervin made an initial appearance before Justice of the Peace Amy Blixt on Monday on felony charges of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, evidence tampering and accountability to criminal distribution of dangerous drugs. She did not enter a plea.

Ervin also faces a misdemeanor child endangerment charge because her 19-month-old daughter suffered burns in the Oct. 12 explosion at the University of Montana-owned apartment Ervin was renting south of campus.

Her bail was set at $25,000 and she remained jailed Tuesday. Blixt ordered a public defender be appointed for Ervin, but an appointment had not been made, court officials said.

Patrick Austin, 24, faces several felonies for allegedly making and selling drugs and causing the explosion while using butane to extract hash oil from marijuana. He has not entered a plea and remains jailed with his bail set at $70,000.

Ervin told officers she usually left the apartment with her daughter when Austin was extracting hash oil, but on that day went into the next room. She said she heard a “whoosh” sound and realized that her hair and her daughter’s hair had caught fire, charging documents said.

Officers seized 1.67 pounds of marijuana, a half-pound of hallucinogenic mushrooms, over $2,200 in cash and a rifle from the apartment, court records said.

Detectives listened to phone calls Austin made to Ervin from jail and heard them discussing Ervin returning to the apartment to try to get a backpack. He suggested that she say it contained items she needed for school when it actually contained cash, drugs and Austin’s cellphone, court records said.

Ervin told Austin she was able to dispose of MDMA and cocaine that police did not find in their search of the apartment and that she had collected $700 in drug debts owed to Austin, charging documents said.

Austin also suggested to Ervin that she claim that they were common-law husband and wife so she could not be forced to testify against him, court records said. He also suggested she leave the state to avoid being subpoenaed to testify, prosecutors said.


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