Couple who abandoned son put on probation

Court approves visits with disabled boy, 10, under supervision

March 04, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The couple who abandoned their severely disabled son at a Delaware hospital in December have agreed to a year's probation instead of a trial in Delaware, and to limit contact with their son to supervised visits.

Richard and Dawn Kelso of Exton, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, had been charged with child abandonment and conspiracy.

The Kelsos dropped off their 10-year-old son, Steven, in his wheelchair at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 26 and left. Their actions drew national attention from parents and advocates for children with disabilities, and the Kelsos later told state prosecutors they had been facing a reduction in the visiting nursing care in January and did not know what else to do.

Thursday, the couple apologized in a statement issued by their Wilmington lawyers.

"If our approach at the hospital was flawed because of the stress under which we were operating, we are sorry," the couple said. "We thought we were doing what was best for Steven at the time.

"We love Steven very much, and achieving his best interests has been our, and is, our primary goal."

The couple had taken Steven to the emergency room, his wheelchair loaded with his toys and clothes. "I don't want to see a nurse," Dawn Kelso said as she left, when the receptionist asked her to wait for a nurse.

Richard Kelso, 62, is president and chief executive of the PQ Corp., a chemical company in Valley Forge, Pa. Dawn Kelso, 45, recently completed a three-year term as a volunteer board member of the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council, which advises the state on issues affecting people with disabilities.

In the plea arrangement reached Thursday, four days before their trial was to begin, the Kelsos admitted to the abandonment charge and accepted a year's probation. Among the terms of the probation is that they cooperate with the Chester County, Pa., Department of Children, Youth and Families, which retains custody of Steven. If convicted, they could have been sentenced to two years in prison.

Steven, who has cerebral palsy and who breathes and eats through tubes, remains at the hospital, where he had often been treated before he was abandoned.

His parents will be able to visit him only under supervision while he remains in county custody, but Jim Forsythe, executive director of the department, said the goal would be to put the boy back in the care of his parents.

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