Boogie's caregiver had affinity for him

Friday, February 24, 2012
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Defense attorney Ronald Freemon, right, confers with his client, Megan Quam, left, and her grandfather, Ben Story, front center. Behind them is Anthony Tucker of A Action Bond. Behind Tucker 's right shoulder is Quam's co-defendant, Crystal Hamler seated with her relatives.

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

One of the women who'd been caring for a 40-year-old Lewisburg man with the intelligence of a toddler has a natural liking for the man and yet she's charged with neglecting him, according to her lawyer.

"None of this was intentional by any means," says Columbia-based attorney Ronald Freemon, retained by Megan Nicole Quam, 25, now of Mobile, Ala. "She had developed an affinity with him," William Robert Cummings.

Cummings, affectionately known as Boogie to his mother and caregivers, lives in a Dodson Drive house owned by Independent Opportunities Inc., a Tulsa, Okla.-based business with an office in Columbia. IOI was hired by Tennessee to provide care for former residents of Clover Bottom Developmental Center in Nashville. Its residents were moved as a result of a class action lawsuit alleging lack of appropriate service. Cummings is the only resident at IOI's house here. IOI owns more in Columbia. Other former Clover Bottom residents live in other counties near relatives.

Quam "took good care of" Cummings, Freemon said between hearings at Marshall County Circuit Court on Wednesday morning. "She took her responsibility very seriously."

Cummings was born without sufficient DNA to develop intellectually. He has the intellectual ability of an 18-month-old boy. Among his maladies is pica, a condition characterized by an appetite for substances with no nutritional value. Seven months ago, an IOI supervisor found Cummings naked and chewing on his clothes while Quam and her now-codefendant, Crystal Hamler, 20, of Lewisburg were allegedly asleep in another room.

"The issue isn't really that they were found sleeping," Freemon said, "but rather whether they did that in a knowing manner."

People fall asleep for various reasons; some unintentionally, he said.

The state's case against Quam and Hamler was continued to March 21 from Wednesday when it became clear that prosecutors had indicated to the defense attorneys that the case could be resolved without trial if the defendants accepted the state's terms.

"The case, obviously, may settle," Freemon said. "But if not, Mrs. Quam has a right to a jury trial."

It was unclear whether she and her codefendant want to exercise that right.

Hamler and several of her relatives were also in the courthouse Wednesday when she was again offered an opportunity to speak for herself. She and her relatives had and still have that opportunity which Quam deferred to Freemon. Hamler's attorney is Assistant Public Defender Bill Harold.

Ben Story is Quam's grandfather.

"She's been living with me and my wife," said Story of Mobile, Ala. where they are helping their granddaughter raise three children. Quam lives with them. Her husband "is living in a trailer" near Story's house.

"She's trying to get her life straight," the grandfather said.

Story has become aware of Tennessee's response to the class action suit over living conditions for those who'd been living in Clover Bottom Developmental Center.

"There's got to be a safe house somewhere," Quam's grandfather said.

Lawrenceburg resident Michelle Copley, a former IOI employee, affectionately calls the 40-year-old man "Boogie," explaining that he's a "Booger" to control when he's upset.

As a former care-taker for Cummings, "off and on for four years between 2004 and 2008," Copley said in an interview last month that she's come to the conclusion that group living is better, in contrast to individual homes such as the Dodson Drive house.

She is contrasting individual home settings with group quarters and even larger facilities that might actually include buildings at Clover Bottom. Her reason is "because of the potential for abuse" at individual homes, Copley said.

Because Boogie has the mental development of a toddler, and the inability to speak, let alone understand things he might see, he can't be a witness of caregiver misconduct.

That conduct would appear to have included neglect as charged, but also other acts that are not part of Quam or Hamler's case, but which Copley says have been investigated without successful prosecution.

Story apparently has reached the same conclusion about group homes. That's "from talking with my granddaughter and her mom who died in July of 2010," Story said.

"And her stepdaddy died in December 2009," he said, acknowledging, without a follow up question, that such family losses can't be an excuse for other behavior.

"It has a lot to do with her mental attitude at that time," Story said.