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Charges filed over 'unsanitary' house

November 11, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

The decaying remains of a dog found in a bedroom contributed to "unsanitary" living conditions for three children that led police to charge a Hagerstown couple on Tuesday, authorities said.

The Washington County Department of Social Services took the boys, ages 8, 10 and 12, into protective custody last Thursday at their 16 East Ave. home, said Hagerstown City Police Detective George Knight.

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"The conditions inside the house were the worse that I've seen in the 18 years I've been a policeman," Knight said. The floor of the home was covered with six inches to a foot of garbage, clothing, assorted junk, cat and dog feces and animal urine, Knight said.

The house also had fleas and food was lying around, said Mike Heyser, the city's building inspector.

The only means for heat was a small space heater surrounded by junk, Knight said.

The parents, Stephen Arthur Lowe, 49, and Patti Jane Lowe, 35, were charged with three counts of reckless endangerment and three counts of contributing to conditions to harm the welfare of a child, Knight said.

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A conviction on each count can carry a penalty of 5 years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine, Knight said.

They were released on their own recognizance on Tuesday, according to the District Court Commissioner's office.

The owner-occupied, three-story house has been declared uninhabitable and condemned, Heyser said.

"It's just real unsanitary," Heyser said.

With their home condemned, the couple could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The rotting dog carcass was found on the rug in the bedroom next to the room in which the children slept, Knight said.

The house smelled so bad that Knight said when he got home he removed his clothes in the garage, bagged them and took them to the cleaners.

The Washington County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took three dogs and six cats into custody from the home, said Animal Control Supervisor Keller Haden. One of the dogs was in bad shape and was taken to a veterinarian, officials said.

Knight said there were probably more cats, but they were difficult to track down in the piles of junk.

SPCA officials said the animals cannot be adopted while they are in litigation, but adoption applications can be filed.

This was the second time in three weeks that young children had been taken into protective custody because of living conditions.

On Oct. 16, four children ranging in age from 3 to 5 were taken into protective custody after being left unattended overnight in a 215 E. Franklin St. apartment infested with lice and fleas, authorities said.

The mother, Jodi Marie Faith, 22, was charged with four counts of confining an unattended child, charging documents stated. Her trial is scheduled for Dec. 9.

"I don't think we're looking at a trend," Knight said.

Knight said it is unusual to find these kinds of cases, especially of this magnitude, in Hagerstown.

Knight said the three boys were supposed to be home schooled by their mother rather than attending public schools.

Police were called to the house by the Department of Social Services.

Social Services Director Dave Engle said he could not comment on a specific case.

The family was not home when police arrived Thursday at 3:30 p.m., Knight said.

The family arrived at the house after returning from a shopping trip to buy lumber to comply with an order from the city's inspection office to clean up their messy yard, officials said.

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