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Published: Friday, 11/7/2003

Signs plaster Toledo as pair battle Michigan agency


David and Hege Crowton of Ava, Mo., formerly of Oakland County, have put up more than 900 notices in the past several weeks. The notices, ranging from small signs that have been affixed to utility poles to larger yard signs, are being assembled in a South Toledo warehouse the Crowtons are renting.

“If I did it in Michigan, they told me I would be arrested,” Mr. Crowton said.

He has problems in Toledo too: City officials said many of the signs will have to come down because they are on public rights of way.

The Crowtons lost custody of two boys and a girl in 1999 after the state s Family Independence Agency said the couple could not care for their children, and the couple battled drug addictions. A Michigan Court of Appeals reaffirmed the agency s ruling in January. A fourth child, a 6-month-old girl, Ella, is living with relatives because the Crowtons fear she ll be taken from them, Mr. Crowton said.

Mr. Crowton said he became dependent on pain killers and other drugs after being struck by a car in 1998 while living in Oakland County.

Tom Martincic, the Crowtons pastor and spokesman, said Mr. Crowton successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program in Alma, Ark., where the Crowtons lived from 2001 to 2002.

The Crowtons children are living in the South Lyon, Mich., foster home of Walter and Denise Lay. Mrs. Lay is Mr. Crowton s sister.

The Lays son, Dennis Lay, 18, pleaded no contest to second-degree criminal sexual conduct two years ago for an incident that involved his 5-year-old niece, according to The Detroit News. The Crowton children were living with the Lays at the time but were not involved. Dennis Lay no longer lives with his parents, who are trying to adopt the Crowton children, Mr. Martincic said.

A Livingston County Juvenile Court clerk confirmed she had a record for Dennis Lay but said she required a written request to release its contents. Mr. Lay s case worker, Sue Grohman, did not return a phone call.

Mr. Crowton, a 39-year-old Internet Web site designer, said his campaign also is a protest against the Family Independence Agency for placing his children in a home where a sex offender resides.

“This is not about me. I made my bad mistakes. It s about three children who have been literally left to the wolves,” he said.

Maureen Sorbet, a spokesman for the Family Independence Agency in Lansing, said she is prohibited for confidentiality reasons from talking about agency cases.

In its ruling against the Crowtons, the Michigan Court of Appeals noted that the Crowtons had pleaded no contest to the allegations made against them by the agency in its parental rights termination hearing in 1999. The court also said it was concerned that the Crowtons said they required an unspecified amount of time before they could care for their children and ruled that the children would be better served in a home where they had been living for four years.

Mr. Martincic said the Crowtons had lousy counsel in its appellate case because they could only afford $750.

“[David Crowton] got run over by a car, and he got run over by the FIA,” he said.

Mr. Martincic said the Crowtons sign campaign is being paid for by donations from friends.

Mr. Crowton said he wants to put up 500 more signs in Toledo before moving on to Michigan, where he plans to put up thousands of signs over the weekend before holding a rally Monday in Lansing. Last night, his supporters gathered for a rally at Lowe s on Airport Highway, he said.

Mary Chris Skeldon, spokesman for Mayor Jack Ford, said last night that the signs that have been placed on public rights of way, such as utility poles, are illegal.

“We have informed the individual that he has to take them down. The city already has begun removing some of them from park locations,” she said.

Officials at Lucas County Children Services said they received numerous calls about the signs from people who thought it was a Lucas County case.

“It s not unusual for a parent to really advocate for themselves or their kids. But this is probably the most extreme one we ve ever seen. There s a lot of work that has gone into this,” said Rod Brandt, a children services spokesman.

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