Pair accused of child torture arrested in Utah
Pair accused of child torture arrested in Utah
Florida officials say 5 of 7 children suffered starvation, abuse
(CNN) -- A Florida couple accused of torturing and starving five of their seven children were taken into custody Friday night in Utah after detectives were able to track their cell phone signals, authorities said.
Capt. Jim Cernich of the Sheriff's Office in Citrus County, Florida, said deputies in San Juan County, Utah, apprehended Linda Dollar, 51, and John Dollar, 58, on a road after recognizing their gold 2000 Lexus sport utility vehicle.
The Dollars face charges in Citrus County, where they lived in Beverly Hills, on one count of aggravated child abuse/torture for all five children.
The accusations include pulling out the children's toenails with pliers and keeping them so malnourished they "looked like pictures from Auschwitz," authorities said.
According to Florida law, aggravated child abuse is a first-degree felony punishable upon conviction by a term of 30 years to life in prison.
The Dollars put up no resistance when they were picked up south of Blanding in southeast Utah, said Bruce Bushore, a sheriff's dispatcher in San Juan County. They were being held in the county jail in Monticello, he said.
Bushore said deputies had been on the lookout for the couple after a nationwide bulletin was issued for them.
"[San Juan deputies] spent a long day on this, looking for these people," Cernich said. "They combed the area and were just about ready to shut down operations when they spotted the vehicle" at about 5:10 p.m. (7:10 p.m. ET).
Cernich said detectives worked with a cell phone company to track signals to two mobile phones being used by the couple.
The Dollars were not the biological parents of the seven children. Gail Tierney from the Citrus County Sheriff's Office said they were their legal guardians, and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, commenting on the case Friday, said the Dollars had adopted the children.
Tierney said two other children were said to be favorites of the couple and were spared abuse.
911 call brought help
The case came to authorities' attention two weeks ago when paramedics responding to a 911 call from the home in Beverly Hills took a 16-year-old boy to a hospital in nearby Crystal River, Tierney said.
The boy was bleeding from a laceration on his head and had red marks on his neck. He weighed 59 pounds, she said.
"That was just the start of the alarming parts of this case," she said in a telephone interview.
Tierney said investigators believe John Dollar grabbed the boy by his neck, raising him off his feet, and then dropped him. The boy struck his head on a fireplace, causing the laceration to his head, she said.
Authorities went to the home in Beverly Hills, about 85 miles north of Tampa, and interviewed the other children, including twin 14-year-old boys who were so malnourished they weighed 36 and 38 pounds apiece, Tierney said.
One child in the home was their 12-year-old sister, the Florida Department of Children and Families said. The three came under the couple's care in 1995.
In addition to the three teen boys and the 12-year-old girl, the other child allegedly abused is a 13-year-old girl. The two children not harmed are a 17-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy.
In a 1995 DCF questionnaire, Linda Dollar wrote, "We have five adopted children and have seen what we can do to help those less fortunate, we can see so many children who need special care, love and an opportunity to be part of a warm, loving, caring home atmosphere."
The Dollars are accused of forcing the five children to sleep in a closet in the master bedroom with a "wind chime affixed to the door so that the Dollars would know if they tried to get out of the closet," Tierney said.
In addition, they are accused of using a cattle prod or some sort of stun gun to shock the children, securing them to spots in the house with chains, striking their feet with hammers and pulling out the children's toenails with pliers.
"There was evidence of damage or missing toenails of these children," Tierney said. There was no evidence of sexual abuse, she said.
"To look at the photos I saw, it was just extremely unnerving," Tierney said. "They looked like pictures from Auschwitz."
Tierney said it also appeared that the Dollars tried to keep the children inside the home as much as possible and that each one was home-schooled.
Authorities removed all seven children from the home January 27 and placed them in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. The Dollars were to appear in court for a hearing Monday but never showed up.
Allegations 'revolting and disgusting'
Tierney said Friday the children are doing well "in terms of eating more and eating better."
Don Thomas, a DCF administrator, called the allegations "revolting and disgusting."
Thomas said the department acted as quickly as possible to remove the children from the home, and Bush said the department did its job properly.
He said that the case was the first reported involving the family and said that authorities are investigating where the children came from.
From March to October 1995, the Dollars were licensed as foster parents in Hillsborough County, Thomas said.
The couple moved to Beverly Hills in August. Before then, they lived in Tennessee with the seven children and apparently ran a small school in the Knoxville area.
"They said they were foster children, and they had come from Florida and these children were being abused, so they had rescued them from homes," said Jean Underwood, who rented a house to the Dollars near Knoxville before they returned to Florida.
Acting on a tip earlier Friday, authorities in Polk County, Florida, found the couple's 1996 black and gold Prevost Marathon motor home at Deer Creek RV park in Davenport, about 75 miles southeast of where the family lived, Cernich said.
CNN's Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.