Mother of murder victim faces eviction

January 20, 2012|By DON AINES |
  • Heather Harris
Submitted Photo

Brenda Cole lost her daughter to a killer last summer, and now she’s worried that she will lose the home they once shared.

“I did not pay January’s rent. I’ve been trying to get help,” said Cole of 1606 Dual Highway in Hagerstown.

Cole said she last worked on June 9, the day before her daughter, Heather Harris, 37, was shot twice in the head by her former boyfriend, Randy Houston McPeak.

Harris died of her injuries a few days later and Cole, who said she managed the pet-grooming service at Petco in Frederick, has been on medical leave undergoing cancer treatments.

McPeak pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last year and is awaiting sentencing.

Cole was in Washington County District Court on Friday after receiving a failure-to-pay rent notice earlier this month. Judge Dana Moylan Wright granted her request for a delay in the proceedings until Feb. 3, Cole said.

Heather Harris also lived at the Dual Highway home where the shooting took place, and her death meant the loss of income that helped pay rent and utilities, Cole said.

“Heart-wrenching,” was how Angela Taylor, property manager for Shaool Management, described Cole’s situation.

Taylor was in court Friday with about 150 or more other failure-to-pay notices from tenants of the company, which she said manages more than 3,000 units.

She said the company is aware of Cole’s situation and agreed to the postponement.

The failure-to-pay rent notice is the first step in the eviction process, Taylor said. Cole’s rent was due the first of the month, and the company has a five-day grace period before filing the notice.

The date for Friday’s hearing was set by the district court, she said.

Taylor said Cole has had to go through the failure-to-pay rent process before.

Cole said she had been receiving food stamps, goes to food pantries and gets $200 a month from the Washington County Department of Social Services. And she also received help in paying her utilities through the Cancer Care Center in Frederick, Cole said.

“They have limited income. They can only give so much money to everybody. I understand that,” Cole said.

Seven months after the shooting and despite her health issues, Cole has so far been denied Social Security disability status, according to her brother, Gary MacBride.

The June 10 standoff between McPeak and police caused considerable damage to the home when members of the county Special Response Team forced their way into the house to rescue Harris. MacBride said he and a few others cleaned up the debris the next day, and Shaool Management made repairs.

In addition to owing the January rent, late charge and court fees of $1,387, Cole is concerned she will lose her security deposit of $1,950 because of the smashed windows and other damage caused in the rescue effort.

Cole said her lease expires at the end of February, and she is looking for an apartment in the Frederick area where she worked and receives treatment.  She hopes a sister in Florida will move to Maryland so they can share an apartment.

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