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Couple accused of abusing girl

The girl's foster parents kept her locked in a room and gave her only spoonfuls of food, authorities said. They face child abuse and neglect charges.


BROOKSVILLE - The 10-year-old girl was locked in a bedroom for days at a time, receiving only spoonfuls of food that left her malnourished and weighing about 29 pounds, authorities said. In photographs, her ribs were clearly visible.

Her foster parents began refusing her food in January of 2001 because she seemed to have an eating disorder and would vomit after meals. They kept her locked in a room with only a paint bucket to use as a toilet, Hernando Sheriff's investigators said.

Two or three times a week, her 14-year-old brother would slide food under the locked bedroom door.

"It was like the pictures you see for hunger relief fund ads of malnourished children in a Third World country," said Lt. Joseph Paez of the Hernando Sheriff's Office. "It was a real disturbing thing."

Arthur T. Allain Jr., 46, and his wife, Lori, 47, turned themselves into the Hernando County Jail on Friday after learning a warrant had been issued for their arrest. Each was charged with aggravated child abuse and child neglect.

Bail was set at $20,000 each.

The case is likely to raise questions about why it took the Department of Children and Families so long to discover the child's plight.

Reached at the DCF's District 13 offices in Wildwood on Friday, spokeswoman Renea Marcano, citing privacy issues, declined to comment about the Allains' arrest and their foster history.

The Sheriff's Office began investigating abuse allegations in May after they received information from DCF workers that an undernourished girl had been taken into their custody.

"As soon as our investigators came in contact with the child, it was apparent that action needed to be taken," Paez said.

The girl, who had last been seen by a doctor in February 2002, was taken to Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill. She was later transferred to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

The report said the child gained weight after receiving proper nutrition. Her whereabouts could not be determined late Friday.

At All Children's, the victim, whose name is being withheld by authorities because of her age and the nature of the allegations, told a sheriff's deputy that she had had an eating disorder and would vomit after eating.

All Children's doctors later determined that she did not have a medical or psychological eating disorder, the report stated.

The girl and her 14-year-old brother were placed in the custody of the Allains in 1999 after the state terminated their mother's parental rights, according to the arrest report.

The Allains had been longtime friends of the victim's family.

Authorities said that beginning about Jan. 26, 2001, the Allains, who live at 14327 Hurricane Drive in northwestern Hernando County, had refused to feed the child because they thought she had an eating disorder. They also kept her locked in a room with a bucket to use as a toilet.

Further interviews with the child revealed that her foster parents would only give her spoonfuls of food to eat during meals.

Her brother slid food under the double-locked door at night when she was hungry. The report stated that the brother had given her food two or three times a week over a period of six months.

Paez, the Hernando Sheriff's investigator, said that because the victim had suffered what authorities describe as long-term neglect, she will never grow to her normal height and likely will have developmental deficiencies.

The case is expected to focus on whether the Allains were suitable foster parents.

Records show Lori Allain was convicted in 1987 for trafficking hydromorphone in Pinellas County. Her husband has a criminal record dating to 1979. In 1990, Arthur Allain Jr. was convicted of obstruction of justice and fleeing and eluding in Pinellas. He served 30 days in jail.

"My personal opinion is that I don't see how anybody could give them foster children," said Mary White, 38, who lives down the street from the Allains. "Have you seen their house? I would not step foot in there."

White said the children were well-behaved. They attended school irregularly, she said.

- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Duane Bourne can be reached at 352 754-6114. Send e-mail to dbourne@sptimes.com

2004 Jun 19