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Mom sharing margarita with 2-year-old didn’t know it contained alcohol

SALEM, Mass. — The Lynn mom spotted sharing her margarita with her 2-year-old daughter last summer at a Salem restaurant didn’t know that a margarita contains alcohol, her attorney insisted on Tuesday. 

“She thought it was non-alcoholic, like a fruity drink from her home country of Haiti,” Sheldy Nelson’s lawyer, Brett Levy, told a Salem District Court judge. 

Levy made the remarks during a hearing where he hoped to convince Judge Emily Karstetter to continue the case of child endangerment without a finding for 11 months and then dismiss it. Doing so, the attorney argued, would spare Nelson from the risk of deportation.

But Karstetter said she was in agreement with prosecutors who wanted a guilty finding, two years of supervised probation, random alcohol tests and a parenting class for Nelson, 42. 

Margarita in a sippy cup

Prosecutor Katelyn Giliberti described how police were called to an area just outside the Salem Waterfront Hotel and Suites on Pickering Wharf last Aug. 29 for a report of a woman and a toddler who both appeared lethargic as they sat outside the hotel. 

Police quickly learned that the two had been inside Brodies Seaport, a restaurant adjacent to the hotel, and had been asked to leave after employees saw Nelson letting the little girl take sips from her margarita. Witnesses said she then poured some of the drink into the toddler’s sippy cup — even after a waitress had asked her to stop sharing the drink. 

Margaritas typically contain tequila and sometimes a liqueur called curacao. 

Doctors at North Shore Children’s Hospital later confirmed that the girl had alcohol in her bloodstream. 

Giliberti went on to tell the judge about an incident soon after that in Lynn. During a supervised visit at a Department of Children and Families office, Nelson refused to let her daughter go and began to shake the child. 

Nelson insisted at the hearing that she was only trying to put ice from her drink into her daughter’s cup that day in Salem.

But prosecutors and police believe Nelson knew she was giving her child alcohol — and that she has a drinking problem herself, noting that just two weeks ago, Nelson, who has been free on bail with conditions that she not drink, tested positive for alcohol. 

Levy, the defense lawyer, said the positive alcohol test, at 5:30 a.m., was the result of her using mouthwash. 

Levy said his client had tested negative for alcohol the night before, and had passed a drug and alcohol test for a job she was planning to start. 

And he argued that imposing a guilty finding would trigger deportation proceedings, “probably taking her away from her citizen daughter,” Levy told the judge. 

But Karstetter was unpersuaded by the argument, telling Levy she was also concerned that Nelson was not admitting to wrongdoing. 

“Get a date for trial,” the judge told the lawyer. 

That trial is now set for July 15. 

Julie Manganis of The Salem News reported this story.