A man told investigators he left a 5-month-old baby boy in the woods after a weekend car crash because the baby was very heavy, court records said.
Officers found the baby — cold and hungry — under a pile of debris and sticks early Sunday, several hours after the crash.
Francis Carlton Crowley, 32, is scheduled to appear in court in Missoula Tuesday on charges of assault on a minor and criminal endangerment.
Deputies were called to Lolo Hot Springs at 8 p.m. Saturday because Crowley was creating a disturbance and threatening to fire a gun, Missoula County prosecutors said. Officers learned he and the baby had been in a crash earlier that day.
Crowley was disoriented, likely because of drug use, and unable to help officers find the baby or say how long ago the crash had occurred, charging documents said.
"Officers continued to search in the various areas where the defendant stated the baby was located, but they had difficulty given the defendant's numerous inconsistent statements about the baby's whereabouts," court records said. Crowley variously said the baby was lying on the side of the road or had died and was buried in the woods.
Federal, state and local agencies joined the search, and U.S. Forest Service Officer Nick Scholz arrived with an off-highway vehicle. He and Missoula County Deputy Ross Jessop followed a forest road on which Crowley said he had traveled. They continued on a game trail where they spotted small-diameter trees that had been damaged. Eventually, they spotted Crowley's crashed car, but the baby was not inside, court records said.
Officers followed a trail of personal items, including baby formula and a diaper bag, down the slope from the crash. Jessop and Scholz then searched up slope from the crash, following a game trail until they heard a faint noise about 2:30 a.m.
Jessop found the baby face down, covered in small sticks and dressed in only a wet and soiled onesie.
The baby was taken via ambulance to the hospital. One the way, the baby coughed up small sticks, the charging document said. He was treated for dehydration, lack of food and scratches, cuts and bruises and was placed in the custody of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Crowley, who acknowledged using methamphetamine and bath salts, was jailed, with his bail set at $50,000.
"For all of us at the sheriff's office, this is what we call a miracle," the sheriff's office said in a statement Monday. "For the officers who were present for this event, it's especially hard knowing what this small baby endured in the last 24 hours."
Crowley is from Portland, Oregon, and was previously arrested in June in Missoula on a fugitive warrant from Oregon, the Missoulian reported. Crowley was released when Oregon officials decided not to extradite him, Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jason Marks said.
The nature of Crowley's relationship to the baby was not immediately clear. There was no information on whether Crowley had an attorney.