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Published: Thursday, 5/3/2007

Bond set for Toledo couple held in caged-kids case

BY CHRISTINA HALL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Public defender James MacHarg represents Jessica Botzko in Toledo Municipal Court today. Public defender James MacHarg represents Jessica Botzko in Toledo Municipal Court today.
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Two South Toledo boys ran away from their mobile home to avoid being abused and locked in a cage, authorities said, and yesterday, police arrested their parents for child endangering.

John Westover, 37, and Jessica Botzko, 28, of 3019 Nebraska Ave., Lot 22, were charged with two counts each of endangering children and booked into the Lucas County jail

Judge Michael Goulding this morning ordered each of them to be held in lieu of $50,000 bonds on the child endangering charges, with an additional $5,000 bond for Mr. Westover on a drug charge. Mr. Westover s next court date is May 10, while Ms. Botzko is scheduled to appear tomorrow to get a public defender.

Police searched their home, which Capt. Ray Carroll described as "deplorable," and found a kennel-type cage designed for a small dog or cat.

Public defender James MacHarg represents John Westwood, 37, in Toledo Municipal Court today. Public defender James MacHarg represents John Westwood, 37, in Toledo Municipal Court today.
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"There was garbage strewn, several feet of trash in one bedroom, dishes, and dirty [conditions]," he said.

Lucas County Children Services took custody of the boys, ages 5 and 10, and placed them in foster care, Dean Sparks, the agency's executive director, said.

He said this is the first alleged caged-children case in his 10 years with the agency and the first in his 30 years in this line of work. But it's not the first such case in the region.

In February, Michael and Sharen Gravelle, of Huron County, Ohio, were sentenced to two years in prison for child endangering and child abuse after investigators found that some of their 11 adopted special-needs children had been forced to sleep in wood-and-wire cages. The Wakeman, Ohio, couple lost custody of the children last year.

Jerry Burns is a neighbor of the South Toledo couple charged with two counts each of child abuse. Mr. Burns said he has mowed the lawn at the couple's mobile home on Nebraska Avenue and never saw a child mistreated at the home. Lucas County Children Services took custody of two boys who ran away from the home and placed them in foster care, officials said.

Jerry Burns is a neighbor of the South Toledo couple charged with two counts each of child abuse. Mr. Burns said he has mowed the lawn at the couple's mobile home on Nebraska Avenue and never saw a child mistreated at the home. Lucas County Children Services took custody of two boys who ran away from the home and placed them in foster care, officials said.
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In the Toledo case, police responded to a call of young children on a porch in the 300 block of Westwood Avenue about 10 p.m. Tuesday. That's when the 10-year-old reported why he and his brother ran away.

He said he was forced to live in a cage part of the time and hadn't eaten in a couple of days, Captain Carroll said.

Court records indicate the couple placed their children in a cage used for a dog and placed or condoned a shock collar around the neck of the 10-year-old. The boy was shocked repeatedly through the use of a remote-control device, which is a training tool for animals.

The records also state the parents participated in the use, sale, and/or manufacturing of drugs in the presence of their children.

The trailer at 3019 Nebraska Ave., Lot 22. The trailer at 3019 Nebraska Ave., Lot 22.
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About 9:30 a.m. yesterday, police searched the family's home. Both parents were taken into custody. Police said they seized evidence of drug abuse, child neglect, and child abuse.

"They made statements that led them to be charged with child endangering," Captain Carroll said.

He described the cage as small - a couple of feet tall and a couple of feet wide - with a padlock. He did not know if there were additional cages.

Captain Carroll said the boy said he fell asleep in the cage, which was used for punishment, and went into it when his father was involved in drug activity.

Ariel Dukett, 16, a sophomore at Bowsher High School, said she and her father recently worked on the transmission in Mr. Westover's car. She said the couple had lived in the mobile home park for about 18 months.

The children fled to the house at 343 Westwood last night. The children fled to the house at 343 Westwood last night.
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The teenager said it was common for neighbors to hear the couple fighting in their home. She didn't know they had children until she saw a child at the window.

Neither did Jerry Burns, whom the couple paid $15 every time he cut their small patch of grass last summer and this spring.

"It's just hard to believe," he said of the charges.

Mr. Burns said his late sister, who lived closer to the couple than he does, worried about not seeing the children outside. But he said he never saw a child being mistreated at the home.

"I always saw the kid standing in the window," he said, adding that he thought the couple had one child rather than two.

Last night, no one was at the couple's mobile home.

Captain Carroll said the elder boy was home-schooled and that both boys are thin for their age.

The captain said the elder boy was "pretty caring" to get his younger brother out. He said police also will look into the death of Ms. Botzko's infant daughter, who died a few years ago in a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome-related case.

Mr. Sparks said children services has had no contact with the family since 2003, when a claim was found unsubstantiated. The next year, the agency received an allegation of poor living conditions, but the family had relocated.

He declined comment on prior contact with the family, but said it is a family that has "long-standing issues" that may or may not be related to the present case.

Staff writer Jane Schmucker contributed to this report.

Contact Christina Hall at: chall@theblade.com or 419-724-6007.



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