Harlan man accused of leaving mother in a wheelchair in a water-soaked tent

jwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 5, 2014 

Brandon Buell faces a charge of endangering the welfare of an incompetent person.

A disabled Harlan County woman is recovering in a hospital after spending at least one night in a small camping tent with no heat, the Harlan County Sheriff's Office said.

The woman's son, Brandon Buell, 28, has been charged with wanton endangerment and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person after he allegedly left his mother in the tent.

Catherine Buell was taken to Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital, where she remained Wednesday. Representatives from Kentucky Adult Protective Services are trying to arrange a permanent home for her, Sheriff Marvin Lipfird said.

"I can't fathom someone essentially putting their indigent, handicapped mother in a tent in the middle of a marsh," Lipfird said. "If she had tried to crawl out, she probably would have died from hypothermia."

Buell was being held in the Harlan County jail on a $50,000 cash bond, Lipfird said.

Buell's mother is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair, Lipfird said.

The sheriff said he expects additional charges to be filed as the investigation continues.

Lipfird said deputies arrested Buell on Monday in the city of Harlan about four hours after he left his mother inside the water-soaked tent in the Possom Hollow area at the Dayhoit community.

John D. Gross, a chaplain and reserve deputy with the sheriff's department, noticed the tent in some nearby woods while he was out for his regular walk Monday, Lipfird said.

Gross approached the tent and recognized Brandon Buell and his mother, Lipfird said.

According to the sheriff, Brandon Buell told Gross that he and his mother were staying in the tent after being evicted from a house where he had been living.

"'John said, 'Brandon, you can't leave your momma in a tent. She's in a wheelchair,'" Lipfird said in an interview.

Lipfird said Brandon Buell replied that his mother would be "fine," and then walked away, saying that he was going into town.

His mother was calling for help, Lipfird said.

"Ms. Buell was begging John, 'Please get me out of here, I'm freezing to death,'" Lipfird said.

Gross then called Lipfird, who called for additional help and went there himself.

"We comforted her as best we could until an ambulance got there," Lipfird said. "It took two ambulance crews, John, me, and some deputies to carry her out of there, because it was a marshy area."

The sheriff said water streaming off a nearby mountain was running under the tent. Catherine Buell showed signs of hypothermia, he said.

Lipfird described the tent as a small camping shelter that someone might use when backpacking.

He said Catherine Buell told deputies that her son had set up the tent and had been staying there since early Sunday afternoon. The sheriff said he thinks Gross saved her life.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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