Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Detective, Church Come to Women's Aid; Widow, 82, and Friend Couldn't Maintain Home

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Detective, Church Come to Women's Aid; Widow, 82, and Friend Couldn't Maintain Home

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, County Line staff writer

After living in a rat- and flea-infested house, permeated with the stench of animal and rodent feces and urine, Evalena Hartzog is now in a clean and healthy environment again thanks to a Clay County Sheriff's Office detective and a church pastor.

The 82-year-old visually impaired widow was moved to Magnolia Manor, an assisted-living facility near Green Cove Springs, on July 23 after authorities discovered she and a 60-year-old widow friend were living in deplorable conditions in the home Hartzog and her husband bought nearly 40 years ago on Suzanne Avenue.

"It was the worst home I've ever been in in my life," said Sheriff's Office Detective Ken West. "There was rat and other animal feces from the front door to the back door. The kitchen and the bathroom was not usable because the water pressure would barely trickle."

The smell was so powerful that just going inside the house was "tough, very tough," West said.

Two months after West began investigating possible neglect of an elderly person, code enforcement officials placed an orange "Condemned" sign on the front door of Hartzog's house and she was relocated to Magnolia Manor while her friend and unofficial caregiver, Blanche Wager, moved in with relatives.

During a visit to the residence on July 12, West said in a report that each room in the house was "filled with clutter," including waist-high trash in the kitchen. And when he opened the refrigerator door several rats scurried toward his feet.

"I was bombarded by about six or seven extremely large rats," West said. "When I opened the refrigerator they came ready to eat."

He wasn't there very long before he decided that Hartzog, who is legally blind and has diabetes and other medical problems, had to be moved to a safer, healthier place.

"Just being a human being and seeing the conditions she was living in, it really bothered me," West said. "I thought, 'God, what if it was my mother.' "

He said he contacted Asbury United Methodist Church, where Wager worked part-time in a day-care nursery to supplement her income from a private day-care center, and spoke with the Rev. Linda Standifer about the women's situation.

Together, they helped make the necessary arrangements to get the women relocated. About a week later, West returned with the pastor and about a dozen church members for two days to remove trash, clean and exterminate rats and fleas.

"We all went over to the house in late July," West said. "The church got a Dumpster sent there, and we threw out four full loads of old furniture and stuff, boxes and trash that had been stacked up."

While reluctant to leave her home, Hartzog admitted in an interview at Magnolia Manor last week that she liked the facility, the attentive staff, organized activities and being around other people again. …

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