The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

November 27, 2013

Elderly woman found ‘melting’ in chair

An elderly brother and sister were hospitalized after an Athens County deputy sheriff found them living in a garage without a bathroom or running water on Saturday, unable to care for themselves.

The sister was found burned so severely by a kerosene heater that her leg appeared to have melted into the chair on which she was seated.

Sheriff Pat Kelly said he did not expect to file charges against anyone over the living conditions of Jim Riley, 73, and Ena Sharp, 88. They lived in their own property in The Plains, an unincorporated community about 70 miles southeast of Columbus. No one has power of attorney over them, he said.

Deputy Mike Burba responded to an anonymous call made on Saturday, asking someone to check on them.

He found them in the garage at 36 W. 2nd St., which Kelly said they had converted to housing after their home next door burned down about two years ago.

Burba wrote in his report that he knocked on the garage door until Riley opened it partially. Riley said he had done nothing wrong and to go away and come back another time. The deputy persisted.

Riley then said his sister was inside and was not doing too well because she had been burned by a kerosene heater.

The deputy persuaded Riley to admit him. Once inside, Burba saw that Riley was naked and his bearded face was filthy. The garage was so crammed with trash and debris that Riley had to crawl to get around. Burba radioed for paramedics.

Burba wrote that he walked across a pile of trash, debris and feces, and squeezed through a partially blocked door to another room. There he found Sharp sitting in a chair, a kerosene heater in front of her. Burba wrote that he was horrified that trash, rotting food and feces were piled waist-high in some places in the room.

He turned his eyes to the elderly woman’s leg.

“Her right leg was burned severely from her hip to knee, and appeared to be rotting as it was weeping fluid, and it appeared that she still had the same clothes on that she had on when she got burned as the clothing appeared to be burnt as well,” Burba wrote.

Her leg was melted to the chair, he wrote. Sharp told the deputy that she was healing well and she didn’t want to leave. He reassured her that he was there to help her and that she needed immediate medical attention.

Sharp has been taken to Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, where she was in serious condition in the burn unit yesterday, Kelly said.

Her brother was in the intensive care unit at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens yesterday, Kelly said.

A third sibling, who is in his 80s, lives on the same street, as does Sharp’s daughter, Kelly said. However, Athens County Adult Protective Services will take over responsibility for Riley and Sharp now, including finding them another place to live, Kelly said. The garage will likely be demolished, he said.

“It was a very disturbing scene,” he said.

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