Group-home service owners sought by state

Health officials probe care at site of killing

Residents being assessed, moved

Operators unlicensed

one has criminal record

July 12, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Investigators began hunting yesterday for the owners of an assisted-living service that operated an unlicensed group home in Owings Mills where a 33- year-old caretaker was fatally stabbed this week, allegedly by a resident.

Several of the mentally ill men and women living in four apartments at the Briarwood Apartments were being interviewed last night about what kind of care and supervision they received from the assisted-living service, A Touch of Love Assisted Living Group Inc., as state health officials prepared to place them in licensed group homes.

No records were found of A Touch of Love, a Randallstown-based company, applying for a license to provide assisted-living care, said Carol Benner, director of the Maryland Office of Health Care Quality. A Touch of Love had rented four apartments, each housing between seven and 12 mentally ill men and women, in the Briarwood Apartments off Lakeside Boulevard, according to investigators.

Late yesterday, state mental health workers were assessing several Touch of Love residents - including some who lived in the apartment where live-in caretaker Valerie Latrisha Johnson, was killed Wednesday. A 31-year-old resident, Derrick Anthony Harris, was charged with first-degree murder later that day.

In addition to ensuring the residents are safe and are receiving the care they need, health investigators will focus on finding out more about the living arrangements and care they received from A Touch of Love, Benner said.

"We take this very seriously," Benner said. "We want to find out what's going on here."

Once A Touch of Love's owners are found, they could face criminal charges, state officials said. However, the charge of operating an assisted-living facility without a license is a misdemeanor that typically results in only fines, they said.

Corporate records show that A Touch of Love is owned by Tillenna Wolfe and Kevin W. Bullock, both of Randallstown. They list four employees and annual revenue of $100,000.

Bullock, 30, has an extensive criminal record dating to 1991, including more than a dozen charges for traffic offenses such as repeatedly driving without a license. After serving a series of short jail sentences for those charges, Bullock pleaded guilty in Baltimore County District Court in May for driving with a revoked license and is scheduled to be sentenced this month.

Wolfe, 29, a former legal assistant, had a permit in 1998 to operate a small boarding house that provided some health care. But, state records show, she allowed the permit to expire and never renewed it.

A woman answering the phone at A Touch of Love's office referred all questions to attorney Janice L. Bledsoe, who did not return calls yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Buzzuto and Associates, the real estate company that manages the Briarwood luxury apartment complex, said that A Touch of Love specified on its lease that it provided housing for physically disabled adults.

"The management representatives were not informed that [the four apartments were] to be used as a group home or that any services requiring licensure would be provided," said Valerie Covarrubias, the spokeswoman.

She said that the company shared residents' concerns about Johnson's slaying and that it was cooperating with state and county authorities.

Harris, who lived in one of the apartments rented by A Touch of Love, waived his right to a bail review hearing yesterday.

Court records show that Harris pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in Southern Maryland in 1998. He spent 90 days in jail and was ordered to take medication as prescribed.

In court documents charging him with murder, Harris contends that he left his apartment to grocery shop and returned to find his caretaker in a pool of blood. During questioning by police, detectives noticed blood on Harris' shirt, the documents said. When asked about the blood, Harris told police: "I really need to talk to a lawyer."

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 2.

Sun staff writer Gerard Shields contributed to this article.

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