Bills for grandsons crowd out tears for slain daughter Debts mount for woman struggling to raise 3 boys

May 24, 1992|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Staff writer

Someday, after Virginia Wallace has raised three grandsons left behind when her daughter was killed during a police raid in Severn, she'll dig out the sympathy cards and letters tucked in a closet, read them and cry.

"But I don't have time for that right now," she said one day last week. "I have to push it back and not think about it."

What she has time for now is worrying about food, clothing, medical care and psychological counseling for Toure, Andre and Dennis Nelson. The three boys came to live with her in the tiny, three-bedroom house at the end of Rosemary Street in Annapolis shortly after their mother, Crystal Nelson, was buried.

On October 20, 1989, Nelson, 26, was asleep on the couch in a town house in the Stillmeadows subdivision where she was baby-sitting for a friend. Anne Arundel County police burst through the door with a 10-day-old search warrant.

Officer Thomas Gordon Tyzack Jr., the point man, shouted at Nelson, who was eight months pregnant, then tried to pull her off the couch with his 9mm semiautomatic weapon in one hand and a shield in the other. The gun went off. Nelson and her baby, a girl, died.

XTC Investigations by State's Attorney Frank Weathersbee and the U.S. Justice Department found that Tyzack was negligent but not criminally responsible. Tyzack, who received psychological counseling from the county, has returned to work.

Wallace, who found an Annapolis social worker to counsel the boys for free, sued Tyzack and the county in U.S. District Court in Baltimore for $3.5 million, charging negligence and civil rights violations. The suit remains unresolved, and Wallace, who keeps two cartons full of legal documents near the couch in her living room, is deep in a financial hole.

"We've gone from being able to pay our bills before they were due to paying them long after they're due," said Wallace, who works part time as a bank teller. "My husband's credit has gone from A-1 to nothing."

Her husband, John Wallace, is a route man for a vending machine company. He makes enough for the two of them and the 17-year-old son still at home, she said, "but not enough for all five of us."

Wallace concedes she didn't spend wisely when the boys, now 13, 10, and 9, came to live with her. And she acknowledges the help of friends from Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jessup and local doctors. Still, she says, the financial noose grows tighter.

"When I first got them, I was not used to having that many kids. I would shop the same way I did when it was just the three of us," she recounted. "I just got more of every thing."

When any of the boys needed anything, she bought it.

"I spent $300 on shoes before school started," she said. "It doesn't hit you until your savings are gone, and you don't have any more credit."

Now, she said, she budgets more carefully.

"But once you get yourself in that hole, its hard getting out," Wallace acknowledged.

The boys still go to Annapolis Area Christian School, which costs her about $700 a month, she said.

"I sent my son there, and I wouldn't do any less for them," she explained. "I tried public school, but I don't like it."

County officials offered her $175,000 to settle the suit, she and her lawyer, Charles J. Ware, said.

"But I thought that was a joke," she complained.

"You figure, three children the age they are now, what's it gonna take until they get out of school?" Wallace asked. "A lot more than that. And what if they want to go to college?"

David J. Plymyer, deputy county attorney, said he could neither confirm nor deny any settlement discussions, but hinted that he may have made an offer.

"We acknowledge there was a terrible tragedy that in some manner has to be responded to," he said. "But in the legal sense, the county cannot pay what it is not legally liable for."

He has argued that the county is protected from Wallace's claim by governmental immunity.

"I know that doesn't sound acceptable," Plymyer added. "But the county has a responsibility to its taxpayers not to pay claims it is not legally liable for."

Meanwhile, the boys have no medical insurance.

John Wallace has insurance through his job, but step-grandchildren don't qualify for coverage. And he and Virginia Wallace earn too much to qualify for medical assistance.

Social Services "told me I could have [a medical assistance] for one of the boys," she said. "But what good is that if I choose one and another one gets sick? It's like saying, 'which one do you want to put in front of a firing squad?' "

Two weeks ago, Toure fell and broke his arm while playing at a friend's house. Physical therapists are asking Wallace if she wants to set up a payment schedule.

"No sense in that," she replied. "I can't pay you anyway. I do have this suit. Maybe I'll get something from that."

Meanwhile, she said, she is thankful that her marriage hasn't dissolved in bickering over money.

"My husband has been really good about it," Wallace recounted.

"This is something that could really tear up a family. But when it gets tough, we lean on God. He helps keep us together."

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