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Last updated: Tue. Feb. 26, 2013 - 08:51 am EDT

Man sentenced for endangering AWS client

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A former Anthony Wayne Services employee accused of leaving a client with disabilities sitting in a van at a basketball court while he played for an hour, was sentenced Monday in Allen Superior Court.

A plea agreement calls for Denzel E. Benson’s Class D felony charge of neglect of a dependent put in situation endangering dependent life/health to be reduced to a misdemeanor with a year and a half suspended sentence, six months on an ankle bracelet, after which time he must report to Allen County Probation weekly.

Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said the man who Benson left in the van, Jerry White, 54, has the IQ of 11. He is blind in one eye and has a loss of hearing. His sensory losses are the result of White hitting and poking himself when he becomes agitated. White’s sister, Susan Blitch, said he becomes agitated when he is left alone for more then 15 minutes.

“He is one of the most fragile human beings I have ever seen in my life,” Richards said.

According to the probable cause affidavit, at around 8:29 p.m. March 21, Fort Wayne Police officers were called about an individual yelling inside a van near some basketball courts. Police noted the van was running and the front windows were cracked 2 inches. When the officer shined his light into the van, he saw an individual sitting in a wheelchair. He was then approached by Benson, of the 5800 block of North Indiana 101, from the area of the basketball court. The officer told Benson he had been called because the individual had been in the van for an hour and yelling while Benson was playing basketball. Benson said it was not uncommon for White to yell.

Richards said White was found in the van with his pants down and a soiled diaper.

“Who knows how long he had been sitting there like that?” Richards said.

According to court documents medics said White didn’t need medical attention. Benson was released after calling a ride because his driver’s license was suspended. Benson, a direct care staff worker, was then suspended by Anthony Wayne Services pending an agency investigation. He was to report to AWS on March 22, but failed to do so and his employment at AWS was terminated.

Richards said according to White’s service plan from Anthony Wayne Services White suffers from a multitude of physical and mental disabilities, including grand mal seizures, and functions at the level of a two-year-old. He cannot fend for himself and needs 24- hour-staffing. He is supposed to be kept within eyesight, with staff checking on him every 15 minutes, except when he is in his room sleeping.

Benson’s attorney, Philip Terrill, told the court that Benson was not playing basketball, but watching the game and that his client had not been away from the van for more then 30 minutes. He also said the van had been left running with the air conditioning on and the windows cracked.

Benson apologized to the court, the judge and Blitch for his behavior. He said he is really not a bad person and other than his license infraction this is the only time he has ever been in trouble with the law.

Richards said while Benson was still in the employment of Anthony Wayne Services, he was pulled over March 9 and had a suspended driver's license, nearly two weeks before the incident.

Judge Wendy Davis accepted the plea agreement, telling Benson she thought it was very generous in light of the circumstances.

After the sentencing, in the hallway outside the courtroom Richards said this case points to a much larger problem of finding qualified, responsible people to care for those with disabilities.

Barb Watchman, a spokeswoman for Anthony Wayne Services, said it is normal protocol to do an extensive background check on a subject before they are hired, which includes making sure they have a valid Indiana driver's license. Every year on the employee's hire date, the license is rechecked. Employees are supposed to let the agency know if something happens to their license, but Benson didn't.

ebogue@news-sentinel.com


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