Family drew funds 'for son' after death


While the body of 8-year-old Jerome R. Durant Jr. lay in a Woodlawn townhouse, his family collected money from his trust fund and bought a $244,000 house in Owings Mills in the boy's name designed to make caring for him easier, court records show.

As recently as Wednesday, the day the body was discovered long after the boy's death, the family collected more than $5,000 for medical and housing supplies.

A $25.9 million settlement in a 1988 medical malpractice case, which established the trust fund for the child -- who had cerebral palsy -- also calls for the boy's mother to collect nearly $3 million after his death, according to court files.

Baltimore County police continued to say yesterday that they had no reason to suspect foul play in young Durant's death. The boy's body was found Wednesday in the family's Woodlawn apartment, which it apparently had vacated in September. His mother, Veronica Joann Jones, 31, told police she left him in the bed where he died because she could not accept his death. She told police he died in early July.

Court records and interviews show a mother devoted to her child but who could not manage the fortune that had been awarded to keep him alive. After she ran through hundreds of thousands of dollars, the court appointed her aunt to be the boy's trustee.

Thomas Waxter Jr., a lawyer involved in the management of the boy's trust, said yesterday Ms. Jones, who also has two young daughters, should be commended for her care of the child, undertaken without the help of nurses.

"She's a kind, loving woman. She was a wonderful mother. Nobody else was interested, 24 hours a day, in looking after this kid," said Mr. Waxter, who said he learned of the boy's death only after it was the subject of news reports this week.

Still speaking of the boy in the present tense, Mr. Waxter said yesterday: "This kid is really disabled. He can't hear. He can't vTC see. He can't talk. He has the mental status of a 3-month-old baby. He can't eat. He's got a hole in his stomach."

Records show the family asked for and received approval from a Baltimore judge for more than $6,800 in withdrawals from the boy's trust fund since July -- including more than $5,000 issued Wednesday for housing supplies and medical equipment. Another $148,000 was withdrawn last month for a down payment on the house.

Upon learning of the boy's death Thursday, Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan terminated any further withdrawals -- including a $3,000 monthly disbursement to Ms. Jones approved last November.

'She bought a lot of stuff'

Besides establishing an annuity to provide income for the boy's care, the December 1988 malpractice case settlement awarded

$300,000 to Ms. Jones, according to court documents. Those files show that by January 1993 the woman's aunt, Audrey Moore, was appointed guardian to the boy's property because Ms. Jones was "destitute," having spent the money she received.

L "She bought a lot of stuff," Judge Kaplan said of Ms. Jones.

Court records show Ms. Jones applied for public assistance and had to be given money to prevent her and her family's eviction. She also had been charged with passing bad checks in 1991 and 1993, but none of those charges led to convictions, court records show.

Attempts to locate Ms. Jones were unsuccessful yesterday. Ms. Moore, who is named in court records as executive director for Northwest Youth Services, refused to speak with a reporter.

The boy's body was discovered in the bedroom of the family's vacated Heatherton Court townhouse by a maintenance man during a routine inspection.

A wheelchair stood next to the bed, police said.

Police said that unless an autopsy shows the boy did not die of natural causes, no charges would be brought against the mother.

Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a Baltimore County police spokesman, said police knew about the malpractice settlement at the outset of their investigation and that Ms. Jones has been cooperative with investigators. He said the medical examiner could not pinpoint the date of death but found it to be consistent with the mother's statement that Jerome died in July.

Jerome was 2 1/2 years old when he and his mother were awarded the multimillion-dollar settlement for alleged doctors' errors that left the boy brain-damaged at birth.

The suit claimed doctors at Maryland General Hospital ignored clear signs that his mother, who was three weeks past due, should have been given a Caesarean section when a fetal monitor showed the baby's heart was sluggish. Instead, the suit said, they gave her a drug that inadvertently deprived the baby of oxygen.

Court records show Ms. Jones was trained at Kennedy Krieger Institute to care for the child, including injections, use of a food tube for feeding and physical therapy.

Ms. Jones moved out of her Heatherton Court townhouse early in September, according to neighbors, who said she did not leave a forwarding address but was seen Tuesday picking up belongings.

Neighbors of the two-story brick home in Owings Mills purchased from Jerome's trust fund money on Sept. 1 said yesterday they'd seen people living in the house. They also saw a wheelchair-lift-equipped van with handicap plates parked in front. Some furniture could be seen in the house, but no one was home yesterday.

According to Mr. Waxter, the attorney for Ms. Moore, a contract for the custom house was signed in January. Mr. Waxter said the house was built with Jerome's comfort in mind, with a special shower and all of the boy's needs located on the first floor.

Monthly payments of $9,155

The settlement established an annuity with initial monthly payments into the trust fund of $9,155, subject to annual increases of 3 percent. Payments were to come from the annuity for the boy's lifetime or 20 years, whichever was longer. If he died within 20 years, the payments would then go to his mother, the beneficiary of the annuity. A court document shows the boy's "heirs" are to receive $2,951,979 should the boy die within the 20-year period "for any reason whatsoever."

When a gravely ill child is granted a large medical malpractice award, the guardians usually are written into the settlement so that they can continue to collect payments even if the child dies, said Bill McRorie, counsel to First Colony Life Insurance Co., which processed the annuity payments in the Durant settlement.

"The funds are going to be paid to someone, and that's usually the parents or the estate of the injured child, which again comes back to the parents," Mr. McRorie said.

Court records show that in addition to the money for the house and the $3,000 monthly payments for the boy's support, the family members received permission to withdraw more than $58,000 for expenses including medical supplies, legal fees and

a 1994 specially-equipped Chevrolet Astro van.

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