Longview couple accused of abusing adopted children post bail
By Tony Lystra and Amy M.E. Fischer
A 13-year-old Cowlitz County boy was starved so badly by his adoptive parents that he stopped growing and, even as an adult, will be about 10 inches shorter than if he'd grown up in a more stable home, according to court documents released Friday.
A Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge found probable cause Friday to charge the boy's parents, Jeffrey Allen Trebilcock and his wife, Rebecca Lynn Trebilcock, both 44, with starving and abusing the 13-year-old and four adopted girls, three of whom are from Haiti. The children were home-schooled, according to Longview School District officials.
The children, between ages 8 and 13, were notably underweight when the state took them from their adoptive parents and placed in foster homes March 8, court documents said.
Authorities noted that the Trebilcocks' three biological children, who also lived in the home, "are average to overweight for their size." Jeffery Trebilcock, who works as a Longview School District truck driver, and his wife "are overweight as well," a report said. Rebecca Trebilcock tracked the children's height and weight in a journal between 2006 and 2010, according to investigators.
Judge Michael Evans set bail for the Trebilcocks at $50,000 each during a Friday afternoon hearing. The couple, arrested Thursday afternoon, are expected to be charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment, third-degree assault and four counts of second-degree criminal mistreatment. Evans also ordered the Trebilcocks to stay away from their children, all of whom are now in protective custody.
The couple spoke only short sentences in court as they answered the judge's questions Friday. They posted bond and were released from jail later in the afternoon, according to a corrections officer.
Authorities have been investigating the Trebilcocks since March 1, when the 13-year-old boy was hospitalized after complaining that he was falling down, suffering chest pain and didn't have complete use of his hands. Rebecca Trebilcock took the boy to a pediatric clinic, but his condition was so serious he was referred to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland. Doernbecher doctors said the boy was suffering from wasting, muscle atrophy, hypothermia, fatigue, weakness, extreme eczema (skin rashes often brought on by stress) as well as four broken ribs in various stages of healing.
The Trebilcocks were unable to explain how the boy broke his ribs, court documents said.
Investigators said an alarm had been rigged in the Trebilcocks' kitchen of their rural home in the western section of the county, at 160 Reid Lane, to keep the children from stealing food. The children's breakfast often included only "two heaping teaspoons of oatmeal," court documents said. Some of the kids resorted to eating dog and goat feed as well as dandelion leaves and toothpaste, authorities said.
As punishment for "stealing" from the pantry, the Trebilcocks allegedly beat the children with a wooden board and doused them with cold water and made them stand outside. The 13-year-old boy recalled being beaten so bad he could feel blood running down his legs, according to the documents.
The Trebilcocks also told their younger children not to play with their 13-year-old brother because he was "a bad influence, due to his lying and stealing," the children told authorities. "This put an extreme emotional strain on all of the children."
Friday, prosecutors said the couple took the children to Wyoming when authorities launched their investigation in March and returned to Washington after a judge issued a court order.
Prosecutors also said the Trebilcocks have been spying on the foster parents now caring for their children.
Attorney Kurt Anagnostou, who has been representing the couple in the battle with state officials to keep custody of their children, called the abuse allegation "baseless" and said his clients never fled the state with their children.
"We continue to hear these baseless allegations about what's gone on with these children, regardless of fact," Anagnostou, who is also Longview's mayor, said Friday.
Asked what may have been behind the alleged abuse, Cowlitz County Prosecutor Sue Baur said: "I can't really comment on the why at this point except to say that food is a very integral, intimate part of our lives, and you wouldn't expect it to be used as a method of abuse - or as power or control, if that's what was happening here."
A neighbor, Warren Bartold, said Friday he was "totally shocked" at the abuse allegations against the Trebilcocks, whom he's known four years.
"They're wonderful parents, they're loving Christians," said Bartold, 61. "If anything, they're role models, not what they're making them out to be. This is a total injustice."
No problems on inspections
The Trebilcocks were licensed foster parents from 1993 to 1996 and from 1998 to 2004, said Sherry Hill, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services Children's Administration division. Social workers never found any problems at the family's home during those periods, when they would have visited any foster children once a month, Hill said.
The couple's three-year license was not renewed in 2004 because they had too many children. By then, in addition to their biological children, the Trebilcocks had adopted two children through the state and taken in two Haitian children, said Hill, who did not know what agency the couple used for the foreign adoption.
Hill added that social workers don't have contact with families after children are adopted unless her office receives complaints alleging abuse or neglect.
When the Trebilcocks adopted their foster children, they would have been required to agree to the same rules for discipline as foster parents, Hill said. Those rules include a ban on physical punishment, infliction of pain, sleep deprivation or providing inadequate food, shelter or medical care.
Since they were placed in foster care March 8, the four girls have each grown between a half-inch and 1.5 inches and gained between 10 and 18 pounds, court documents said.
The 13-year-old boy was the most underweight. At 4-feet-4-inches tall and only 49 pounds, he was 50 pounds under the average for a boy his age. He has since grown 1 inch and gained 25 pounds, authorities said.
Dr. Blaine Tolby of the Child and Adolescent Clinic in Longview, has diagnosed the boy with Psychosocial Dwarfism, a "severe growth impairment (caused by) severe environmental stress," court documents said.
Authorities said the boy had been of average height and weight in 2002 when he was placed into foster care in the Trebilcock home. Tolby examined the boy at age 10 in 2008 and found the child's size was more consistent with that of a 6-year-old and he was "failing to thrive."
Authorities said Tolby wrote a letter to the couple explaining that the boy's condition was "perhaps quite life-threatening" and insisting that they get him the proper care. It appears that the Trebilcocks never followed up, investigators said.
According to the sheriff's office, Tolby went "above and beyond" to make sure the boy was getting further medical attention.
Tolby declined to comment Friday other than to say, "I think things will play out in the court arena where they should... I'm just glad we are where we're at."
The Longview School District hired Jeffrey Trebilcock as a substitute warehouse delivery driver in 1998 and he was made a permanent employee in 2006, said Catt, the school district spokeswoman. She said that he mostly dealt with staff at the schools' front offices and was not regularly around children.
Jeffrey Trebilcock worked on Thursday, but recently asked for a leave of absence. She said district officials planned to meet with him, and it was unclear how they would handle the question of his employment in light of the allegations.
"The district would have obvious concerns about an individual who's been accused of mistreatment of children when we're in the business of caring for and educating children," Catt said.