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Police charge parents of girl killed by snake

Thursday, October 25, 2001

By Ernie Hoffman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The parents of an Irwin girl who was strangled by the family's pet Burmese python were arrested yesterday on charges that their recklessness and negligence led to the girl's death.

Westmoreland County investigators said Robert D. Mountain and his estranged wife, Marcie, failed their responsibility as parents when they left 8-year-old Amber Mountain home alone with a house full of dangerous snakes, one of which escaped its cage Aug. 22 and attacked the girl.

Amber was found unresponsive in the family kitchen with the 10-foot snake wrapped around her neck. She was pronounced dead two days later in Children's Hospital and an autopsy showed the cause of death was compression of her neck and chest.

The python, which is called Moe, weighs about 70 pounds and is roughly 6 inches in diameter. It is one of five large and dangerous snakes the Mountains kept as pets, investigators said. Somehow, it had opened the lid on its cage during the night.

Mountain told investigators that his wife, who wanted a divorce, had been out all night, county Detective Richard Kranitz said.

Mountain said Moe somehow had opened the screen on his cage about 1 a.m., and that he repaired it and left a board on top of it. He said the snake was still in its cage when he went to work as a short-order cook at the Colonial Grille about 6:30 that morning.

Mountain also told investigators he had looked in on Amber and saw her sleeping in her bedroom before he went to work.

Marcie Mountain spent the night with her boyfriend, Kevin Hodgkinson, a man she said she had been dating for about three months, according to Kranitz and Irwin Patrolman Joseph Pocsatko.

Investigators said Marcie Mountain told them Hodgkinson brought her home about 10 a.m. that day and, after she saw that Amber was watching TV, she left to get something to eat and to talk to her husband at the Colonial Grille.

When she returned, she found her daughter on the floor with the snake coiled around the child, whose face had turned blue. Marcie Mountain then ran back to the restaurant to get help.

Robert Mountain, 31, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony, plus reckless endangerment and child endangerment, both misdemeanors. Marcie Mountain, 30, was charged with child endangerment.

District Attorney John W. Peck said the more serious charge of manslaughter was filed against Robert Mountain because he was the one who was home when the snake escaped and he was the one who left the girl alone.

North Huntingdon District Justice Martha Medich said the maximum penalty for the manslaughter charge is 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Pocsatko said Irwin council recently enacted a law to require the owners of dangerous pets like snakes to get a permit from the borough to prevent future tragedies.

"We don't want any more children to die," he said.

The Mountains' snakes are still alive, Pocsatko said. He would not say where they are being kept.

Another daughter, 3-month-old Brittany Mountain, died March 14, 1996. Mountain told investigators that she had been sleeping with him when he rolled onto her. It was ruled an accident.

The Mountains were arrested yesterday in Medich's office, where Robert Mountain was scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on unrelated charges that he had threatened to kill his former employer, Gary Santimyer, owner of the Colonial Grille.

A large snake tattoo could be seen under his county prison uniform. Medich set bail in the new case at $100,000.

As she was arraigned, Marcie Mountain told Medich that she had left Irwin and taken an apartment in Oakland, where she began a new job this week. Her bail was set at $25,000.

Robert Mountain has been jailed in lieu of $10,000 bail since Oct. 17 when he was charged with threatening Santimyer's life because of a disagreement over unemployment compensation. The hearing in that case was postponed when he was arrested in the snake case.

Unable to post bail on any of the charges, the Mountains were taken to the county prison.

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