Monday, September 17, 2007

Abuse Hotline Got Calls Before Woman's Death

Daughter is charged with criminal neglect

BELLEVILLE --Landlord Gerald Feder became so concerned about 90-year-old Bernice Vickers that he called the elder abuse hotline three months before she was found dead in her apartment.

Feder learned Vickers' relative also called the hotline just a month before she died.

"I thought something was going to happen," Feder said. "Nothing came of it, and now she's dead."

Belleville police confirmed there were at least two reports to the Illinois Department on Aging's elder abuse hotline.

"Due to strict confidentiality laws, the department cannot comment on whether an elder abuse report related to this case was received," Jessica Woodward, the agency's spokesman, stated in a written response. "The purpose of the statutory confidentiality is to protect, to the extent provided by law, the identity of the reporters of elder abuse cases and the privacy of the older victims of elder abuse."

Bernice Vickers was found dead on a cot in the living room of her apartment at 16 Orchard View Court after newspaper carrier Frank Voss found her daughter, Karen Vickers, 65, lying in the apartment's parking lot about 4:45 a.m. Sept. 6.

Police later arrived and took an intoxicated Karen Vickers into her apartment and found Bernice, who had been dead at least 12 hours, according to police reports. Karen Vickers was charged with criminal neglect.

Feder came forward after Bernice Vickers' death. He said he called the state hotline about three months ago after he learned Karen Vickers left her mother, who needed constant care, alone for four and five hours at time.

The Department on Aging never contacted Feder about the report.

Karen Vickers was charged on Tuesday with two counts of criminal neglect of an elderly person. She remains in St. Clair County Jail on $100,000 bail.

Voss, a Belleville News-Democrat carrier, was delivering newspapers in the area Sept. 6 when he saw Vickers lying near the open door of her car with the contents of her purse scattered across the parking lot.

"I asked her if she was all right and if I could help her. She said she was fine," said Voss, who continued on his route until he saw a passing police officer.

Voss offered to call 911, but he said Karen Vickers strongly protested. Voss left, but called his friend and fellow carrier Julie Korniluk to come check on the woman, then flagged the officer down. The three arrived at the parking and found Karen Vickers still on the ground.

"That was when I smelled the alcohol on her," Voss said. "We got her up and to the apartment. It was scary in there -- like something out of the movie 'Seven' or the television show 'CSI.'"

Voss and Korniluk spotted Bernice Vickers lying on a cot in the living room.

"I knew immediately that she was dead," Korniluk said. "There was a hose hooked up to her, but her eyes were glazed, she wasn't blinking and her chest wasn't rising. I've seen some weird things delivering papers, but I've never seen a dead body."

Voss and Korniluk left to finish their route, leaving the police officer with Vickers.

Karen Vickers moved in with her mother about six years ago after Bernice Vickers' husband, Jack, died, Feder said. Feder rented to Bernice and Jack Vickers for 21 years.

"This just breaks my heart," Feder said. "They could and should have done something. This didn't have to happen this way."

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at or 239-2570.

Excerpt from Hotline complaint to DCF:

On 9-29-04 Wednesday eves, we received a phone call from Clara saying she was in
Winter Haven, that all her calls out or in were being blocked, she was being given heavy doses of tranquilizers ...during a brief conversation with my wife Judy she told her "She din't know if she was dead or alive".

On November 17,2004 Clara was found un conscious in the bottom of a bathtub and taken by helicopter for emergency neurosurgery, she has been in wheel chair totally in capacitated ever since.

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Guys I know I am taking a very UN popular position by publishing these stories and I am prepared to take whatever vindictive action you have in store for me for revealing the fact that (according to my personal experience and that of many of my readers and contributors )calling the Elder Abuse Hotline and $1.25 will buy you a cup of coffee but very little in the form of Elder Abuse protection.

I say this not in spite and anger , but I do this in the hope that when I reach Old Age in the not too distant future and someone calls the Elder Abuse Hotline, that action will be taken to save my life. In other words I am hoping that my constructive criticism based on facts, personal experience, and the experience of other folks will prompt the authorities in making meaningful changes, and not just letters and empty words that without action are nothing but a visage and a poor excuse for the way that help was not to be forthcoming in the case of Clara G. Fernandez and the many elders that have paid for our indifference with their lives.

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