A son's letter details family ordeal In his court-ordered writing, man recounts his mother's suffering

June 14, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

She stopped their father from spanking them. She helped with their homework. And when her Alzheimer's disease worsened, he tried to visit more often, though she told him to stay away.

In a court-ordered letter on "What my mother means to me," a Glen Burnie man convicted of neglecting the health of his mother, whose bedsores had become insect-infested, has described a touching -- though sad, misspelled and somewhat jumbled -- family tragedy.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner ordered Ronald L. Phelps, 45, to pay a $5,000 fine and sentenced him to 250 hours of community service, five years' probation and the writing of the letter, which is part of the court file.

Lerner was outraged over the treatment of Esther Phelps, then 71, by two of her sons. Ronald Phelps and his brother John W. Phelps, 43, who lived with his mother in Pasadena, were charged with neglect of a vulnerable adult.

It was the first time that county prosecutors could recall an adult being held responsible for medical care of a parent with whom he did not live. The state law covering such cases was broadened in 1995.

Ronald Phelps entered an Alford plea April 7, declining to admit guilt but conceding the state had enough evidence to convict him.

John Phelps pleaded guilty to the charge in November but failed to appear for sentencing April 24. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Ronald Phelps' handwritten essay recounts ups and downs. When he was in junior high school, two of his younger brothers were troublesome, and his mother paid more attention to them. But, he wrote, it was "OK because I knew she still cared about all of us."

Later, "she was trying to get her driver's license and I was trying to teach her how to drive because my dad was working so much and didn't have time. It took her some time, but she did it. I was so proud of her."

She did not want him to marry at age 23, but he did so and she soon became "good friends" with his wife.

About four years ago, Phelps wrote, his father died and his mother moved in with him for eight months. But she returned home, where John had offered to take care of her. Soon, the other two of four brothers moved in as well, but only for a while.

Ronald Phelps had an argument with his brothers. "And my mom got mad at me, and told [me] to stay away," he wrote. "So I did, but a few months later her Alzheimer's started getting worse. So I started going by more."

He was forced to cut back on his visits after "I got a DWI" -- driving while intoxicated conviction -- and was ordered to attend classes five days a week, he wrote.

"But my mom still means the world to me," he concluded.

On May 27, 1997, when a third son, Larry of Cambridge, visited John and his mother, he called for an ambulance, and John went to get beer.

North Arundel Hospital workers found the elderly woman desperately ill.

John Phelps told police that Ronald had promised to get help for their mother, but did not.

Esther Phelps was released from the hospital to a nursing home. The county police, working with medical and social services personnel, brought the neglect charges against John and Ronald Phelps.

Pub Date: 6/14/98

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