New help for survivors of crime County police program offers counseling, financial aid to victims

July 26, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

When her younger brother was murdered last month, Carol Iturralde didn't know where to turn.

Not only did the Aberdeen woman have to cope with the emotional pain of her brother's death, she also had to find a way to pay his funeral expenses.

That's when Ms. Iturralde received a telephone call from representatives of the county Victim and Witness Assistance Program, a year-old effort by county police departments and government agencies to help in the aftermath of crime.

"These people really pulled me through," said Ms. Iturralde, 43. "When you have someone to step in, it helps out. . . . I couldn't have done what they have done."

Ms. Iturralde's brother, Elvert Jones, a 41-year-old cab driver from Aberdeen, was reported missing on June 22, the last time he made contact with Victory Cab Co. dispatchers. Four days later, his body was found in the trunk of his taxi after it was pulled from 50 feet of water in an abandoned Whiteford quarry.

Three men have been charged with first-degree murder in the slaying. Police believe robbery was the motive.

Mr. Jones was covered by neither health insurance nor Workman's Compensation, his sister said.

He was a Vietnam veteran, but his family was ineligible for assistance from the federal Veterans Administration because he was not retired. His 17-year-old son is entitled to $255 from Social Security.

As part of the county assistance program, deputies from the Sheriff's Office checked into funeral services for Mr. Jones' family.

They learned the services would have cost at least $2,700 -- money Ms. Iturralde said she didn't have.

To reduce the costs, Ms. Iturralde said she decided to have her brother cremated and to have memorial services for him at a church, rather than a funeral home.

That brought the bill down to $1,321, she said.

That's when the assistance program's representatives stepped in again. This time, they applied for a grant from the state Criminal Injury Compensation Board to pay for the funeral services.

Ms. Iturralde should know in about a week whether the state will issue the grant, said J. Keith Warner, a deputy from the Sheriff's Office who helps manage the assistance program.

Meanwhile, Ms. Iturralde said she expects to cover other expenses -- flower arrangements, telephone bills and a plane ticket for her son to come from Colorado for funeral services -- with about $600 from a memorial fund organized by Victory Cab. Co.

To cope with the emotional stress of the murder, Deputy Warner put Ms. Iturralde in contact with Betty Romano, an Abingdon woman who established a support group called Families of Murdered Loved Ones after her daughter was murdered in November 1987.

Ms. Iturralde said she has been talking regularly with Mrs. Romano and plans to attend the support group's next monthly meeting.

pTC Mrs. Romano said the assistance program is needed to help victims of crime through a difficult situation.

"You feel like you're in this all alone," said Mrs. Romano, describing attempts to cope with the murder of a family member. "You don't know where to turn. You feel like you're in a tailspin."

Mr. Warner said the program is designed to help victims and witnesses of all kinds of crimes obtain any kind of help they

need, whether it be finding money for funerals or seeking counseling and learning how police will investigate the case.

Victims and witnesses do not have to report the crime to receive services, although the program's representatives encourage them to go to police so that the incident can be investigated, Mr. Warner said.

"Any time somebody is a victim of a crime, we're there for their assistance," Mr. Warner said.

L "We don't do anything investigative. It's strictly service."

To receive assistance, call the program's hot line at 836-5454.

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