A Pine County day care operator told investigators she had been drinking vodka and taking prescription cough syrup because she was "having a bad day" on the afternoon last week when a toddler in her care wandered away and into traffic on a nearby highway.

Carrie A. Richardson, 56, of Sandstone admitted she didn't know one of the 10 children in her care was missing until a sheriff's deputy told her, according to charges filed in Pine County District Court.

Richardson was charged with child neglect and child endangerment, which are gross misdemeanors.

Investigators say 21-month-old Kaylee Matson left an outside play area through an open gate and wandered onto Hwy. 23, where she was rescued by a 13-year-old boy who saw cars swerving to avoid her.

Suspecting that Richardson had been drinking when they arrived at the day care home, authorities gave her a preliminary breath test that measured her blood alcohol content at 0.114 percent, above the legal limit for driving in Minnesota, according to a criminal complaint.

Before being tested at the scene, Richardson told the deputy she had taken prescription cough syrup, the complaint added. Following the test, she said she had three or four glasses of wine but could not produce the bottle, the complaint read. Ultimately, she said she had been drinking vodka since early in the afternoon and recovered an empty vodka bottle.

Richardson's Building Blocks Child Care was immediately closed by county and state regulators. Richardson was the only adult there at the time.

Kaylee was almost hit by a truck before the 13-year-old plucked her from the highway, according to the charges. The boy turned the girl over to 68-year-old Jerrylyn Chose, who notified authorities.

State records show that Richardson was first granted a family child care license in November 2005; it expires in August. Russ Baron, interim director of Health and Human Services for the county, said his agency has had no previous difficulties with the day care.

Supervision breakdowns were among the problems highlighted in a 2012 Star Tribune investigation that found chronic safety violations across Minnesota's in-home day care system.

Last month, the Legislature passed reforms to increase training for in-home day care providers and to raise penalties for providers who violate basic safety guidelines.

Richardson is scheduled to appear in court on July 16. Phone calls to Richardson and her business were not answered Monday.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482