'Felonious neglect': Coroner appalled at Belleville man's horrible condition

News-DemocratMarch 22, 2014 

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, in a 2012 file photo.

TIM VIZER/BND

St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone said it's the worst case of neglect he's seen in his 40 years in law enforcement.

Billy Ray Young, 52, weighed 60 pounds when he was found dead curled in a fetal position in the bedroom of a Belleville home on March 11.

"It's felonious neglect," Stone said. "This is a case of abuse in its highest form."

Young was blind and had other mental and physical disabilities.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly and Belleville police continue to investigate. They are awaiting autopsy results.

Young's caregiver could not be reached for comment. The Belleville News-Democrat is not publishing the caregiver's name because the case remains under investigation.

Young lived with his mother until her death in 2004, then went to live with a sister, Penny Skinner, who died in a car crash in Ethel, Mo., in 2006. A family member assumed his care, said Young's aunt Rose Ross, who lives near Decatur. The caregiver also took custody of Skinner's disabled son.

The family member then moved Young around Missouri, Iowa and the Decatur area for the next few years, Ross said.

She lost track of Young, until 2010 when she got a call. The family member contacted Ross and told her Young was back in Decatur and there was a man from the state there to check on him. Some neighbors had called with concerns that Young was being left alone, Ross said.

In 2010, the Department of Human Services Office of the Inspector General investigated reports of abuse and neglect against disabled adults who lived at home. Last year, the program was transferred to another agency after a series of Belleville News-Democrat stories on the department's failure to investigate the deaths of 53 disabled adults who died after complaints were made to the hotline. The department stated that the "dead were ineligible for services" and closed their cases.

Kimberly Parker, spokeswoman for the Department on Aging, which assumed responsibility for investigating abuse and neglect allegations after the OIG was disbanded, stated there was no record of receiving a complaint about Billy Ray Young.

Ross didn't remember which agency was checking on Young, but she told the investigator that she would make sure Young received proper care.

"The house was just filthy. Cats, mice, roaches. We had to have the house exterminated. I cleaned for almost a week," Ross said. "We bought them groceries and made sure they had what they needed."

Then, Ross' husband became ill. She didn't see Young for more than a month.

"I came over there and it looked like he had lost weight," Ross said about Young. "There was a bunch of spaghetti in the trash and I asked them about it."

Ross was told Young's caregiver was mad and threw dinner in the trash.

"I confronted him about it. I told him he better make sure everyone was eating. I also told him that Billy Ray had lost too much weight," Ross said. "I told him that I would be coming by to make sure that it was OK."

That's when the caregiver moved Young away. Ross didn't know where Young was until March 11 when she got a call telling her Young was dead.

"I just couldn't believe it," Ross said. "They told me the shape he was in. I had no indication. It's just so sad."

Young was entitled to a blind pension and Social Security benefits, Ross said, but she wasn't sure whether the caregiver maintained the paperwork to keep getting the payments.

"Even so, there was no excuse for that," Ross said.

Ann Buckley, Young's sister, had been estranged from her family since her mother's death. Despite his disabilities, Young managed to adapt, Buckley said.

"He was as strong as an ox. He could crawl on his hands and knees and go to the refrigerator and the bathroom all by himself," Buckley said. "... He could understand what you were saying to him."

Young wasn't verbal, but loved music. He spent hours listening to a radio in his room, Buckley said. Even though he couldn't speak, Ross said she knew when he wanted a kiss or some ice cream because he would scratch his cheek.

Buckley said police told her that Young was not allowed to move freely about the house in Belleville. Neighbors said they didn't know there was another adult man in the house.

"I can't even begin to explain how outraged we are over the poor living conditions that my brother has been living in. No person that lives in American should ever have to live in such poor conditions," she said. "... I feel someone has to speak up for Billy. I am his voice. I pray that people that really loved Billy will speak out as well. No one deserves to be punished that way and all the people who did him wrong will have to one day answer for it."

Young's body was released on Thursday to Kassly Funeral Home in Fairview Heights for cremation.

For Stone, there isn't a question whether charges are in order.

"No human being should be treated like that. He weighed just 60 pounds," Stone said. "Anyone in the care of his caregiver should be immediately removed and place with some loving family. Charges? Yes, someone should answer for this."

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.

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