From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Three weeks ago she was just a leathery lady from Nutley, N.J., with a $99 monthly pass to City Tropics salon and a mission to tan five days a week. "I've been tanning my whole life," she told reporters. "It's my relaxation." But since being arrested on April 24 for allegedly causing burns to her fair-skinned 6-year-old daughter by bringing her into a tanning booth-a charge she denies-Patricia Krentcil, 44, has become an official character of 2012, trailed by paparazzi (who caught her in her minivan listening to Jay-Z's "Young Forever") and satirized by Kristen Wiig on Saturday Night Live in a segment Krentcil called "well done." Yet cracks in her armor were showing last Friday, when, according to a liquor-store clerk, she "bought a bottle of wine, a shot of sambuca and a grape Four Loko and stuffed it all in her purse." The same day, Krentcil burst out of her cheerful yellow home and shooed reporters from her manicured lawn. "She reached the breaking point," says a pal. Krentcil, her husband, Richard, and their five kids (three from a previous relationship) are "an average family," says a neighbor. "Once she came over with a pie she made." Says the pal: "Her house is beautiful inside and out. Her kids are respectful. I don't think what they say happened, happened."

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  • With reporting by Kathy Ehrich Dowd.