02/06/2015 10:36 EST | Updated 04/08/2015 05:59 EDT

Man faces criminal negligence charges in python case, lawyer says

CAMPBELLTON, N.B. - The man arrested in the case of two New Brunswick boys who were killed by a python faces two charges of criminal negligence causing death, his lawyer said Friday.

Jean-Claude Savoie has yet to be charged but has been given an appearance notice to be in provincial court in Campbellton, N.B., on April 27, Leslie Matchim said.

Savoie, who was arrested Thursday in the Montreal area where he now lives and later released from custody, is holding up well but the nature of the charges is disheartening, Matchim said in an interview.

"It's a roller-coaster ride to be told by the RCMP that there will be no charges and only thereafter to learn ... your name is on an appearance notice with charges of that significance staring back at you," he said.

Last May, Matchim said he was told by the lead investigator in the case there would be no charges against his client. But the RCMP said their investigation was still ongoing.

Two months later, the RCMP said they completed their investigation and handed the case to the Crown to determine whether charges should be laid.

A conviction of criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum life sentence. But Matchim said Friday the charges the RCMP ultimately file with the court could change from what is listed on Savoie's appearance notice.

Four-year-old Noah Barthe and his six-year-old brother Connor were found dead on Aug. 5, 2013, after an African rock python escaped its enclosure inside Savoie's apartment in Campbellton, where they were staying for a sleepover.

The RCMP said at the time that the 45-kilogram snake escaped a glass tank through a vent and slithered through a ventilation pipe, but its weight caused the pipe to collapse and it fell into the living room where the boys were sleeping.

Autopsies concluded that the boys died from asphyxiation.

On Thursday, the boys' mother Mandy Trecartin tweeted that the news of an arrest was "overwhelming."

"Guess there's a reason I've had disturbing recurring dreams of my boys for the past few nights," she tweeted.

Savoie and his son were friends with Trecartin and the Barthe boys.

In the days following the deaths, crews removed animals from Reptile Ocean, the exotic pet store beneath Savoie's apartment. Twenty-three reptiles that are banned in the province without a permit were seized and four alligators were euthanized.

African rock pythons have been banned in New Brunswick since 1992 unless a permit is obtained. Only accredited zoos can obtain such a permit.

Matchim said the Department of Natural Resources conducted an investigation looking into the animals Savoie kept but decided against laying charges.

Campbellton Deputy Mayor Ian Comeau said Friday his city was devastated by the deaths of the boys and life in the community was slowly getting back to normal in the 18 months since the tragedy. But he said that changed with news of an arrest.

"It will open old wounds again," he said.

"We will deal with this tragedy. The picture of the mother and the two kids is in the papers today and all over the media and I think that is what saddens the people."

— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.