Accused couple's acquaintances knew little about their 4 disabled children

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMay 7, 2013 

Jerry Lakes and Peggy Whitlock had been living with their four physically and/or mentally disabled children in a room at the Knights Inn on Stanton Way for four to six weeks.

The family's stay at the Lexington motel — except for a few trips to a corner store or McDonald's — did not draw much attention until the death of their son Gerald Lee Lakes, 24, in March. Police opened a neglect investigation after the death and the discovery of two emaciated people.

At the time of Lakes' death, police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said detectives were "working to determine whether these two individuals ... were in this condition because of neglect or some other reason."

Lakes and Whitlock told police that they had provided adequate nutrition and care for Lakes, "but it was incredibly evident they had not," Roberts said Tuesday.

Whitlock, 58, and Lakes, 64, were charged Monday with murder and with exploitation and abuse of adults.

The murder charge stems from the death of Gerald Lee Lakes, who had mental and/or physical disabilities. The exploitation and abuse of adults charges stem from allegations that the couple took money intended for their other two sons, described as vulnerable adults who weighed 92 and 66 pounds, according to court documents.

Roberts said the surviving sons, who are between ages 19 and 24, have mental and/or physical disabilities. They have a daughter in the same age range with mental disabilities. Roberts said the couple have not been charged in connection with the care of their daughter because they were providing her with adequate nutrition.

Roberts referred questions about the siblings' whereabouts to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Cabinet officials would not discuss details about the case.

Court documents provided some new information but offer very little detail about the circumstances surrounding the death or alleged abuse.

The parents allegedly failed to provide necessary medical treatment, care and nutrition for an extended time, resulting in Gerald Lee Lakes' death, according to Fayette District Court records.

A cause of death had not been determined. On Tuesday, Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said his office had not made a final ruling. His office is waiting for more reports from an autopsy.

When found, the adult sons were dirty and had poor oral hygiene. The parents gave conflicting statements about how much food the sons consumed, according to Fayette District Court records. Both men had gained 9 pounds since they were removed from the parents' care, court documents said.

According to court documents, Gerald Lakes' siblings were placed in state custody March 15.

On April 1 and 3, the parents allegedly took the men's money, court records said. The documents do not specify amounts, but Roberts said the sons received government benefits to pay for their care, and the parents were custodians of the money. They are accused of using the money for themselves, according to court documents.

A Fayette County jail spokeswoman said Whitlock and Lakes declined comment Tuesday.

The couple appeared in Fayette District Court for a video arraignment Tuesday afternoon. Judge Megan Lake Thornton refused to set a bond for Lakes and Whitlock and entered not guilty pleas on their behalf. Thornton ordered them not to have contact — by phone or visitation — with their surviving sons.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 14 in Fayette District Court. At that time, a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence against Lakes and Whitlock to send the case to a grand jury.

Very little is known about the couple.

Court records show no previous criminal history. The family also does not appear to have established any roots in Kentucky. They have had residences in multiple counties, according to records.

Most people at the Knights Inn said Jerry Lakes and Peggy Whitlock kept to themselves. The couple continued staying at the motel — but moved to a different room — after Gerald Lee Lakes' death. The last anyone said they saw of Lakes and Whitlock was Monday morning, when they left the motel in a taxi, shortly before they were arrested at Lexington police headquarters.

The couple lived in Pulaski County near the community of Mount Victory about three years ago, neighbors said.

Jerry Lakes and Peggy Whitlock kept to themselves, and people who knew them said they rarely came in contact with the couple's children.

Linda Wells said she had some conversations with Lakes, but he said very little about his personal life, and she never saw his children. Wells said Lakes told her his children were home-schooled.

Pulaski County resident Kenneth Turner said the couple lived in a rented mobile home. Turner said he knew that they had disabled children, but he didn't know anything about them.

The last time he saw Jerry Lakes, Turner said, Lakes told him they were moving to Laurel County.

Marsha Hockensmith, director of Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, an independent state agency that advocates for people with disabilities, said the case raises some key questions — including what services and support in the community were being provided to the vulnerable adults, and whether the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services had been involved with the family.

Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokeswoman Jill Midkiff would not say Tuesday whether the Cabinet had previous contact with the couple or their children. Such information is confidential, she said.

Staff writer Karla Ward contributed to this article. Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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