Wellsville man charged with child endangerment, animal neglect

LISBON — A Wellsville area man was sentenced to 60 days in jail for allowing animals to starve in his home and his child to live in “deplorable” conditions.

Christopher Austin, 34, Wood Street, Wellsville, had previously pleaded guilty to six counts of prohibitions concerning companion animals and endangering a child. He had been scheduled to be sentenced in May, but Judge Scott Washam had asked for additional time to look at the records through Juvenile Court regarding the current living conditions and the decision to allow Austin’s 8-year-old daughter to move back into the home.

Austin and his girlfriend were living in a home on Hillcrest Road, Wellsville, when the county dog warden responded to a complaint in March 2018 and found four deceased dogs, two emaciated dogs and the family living in a home with rotten food in the refrigerator and smelling of urine and feces.

Assistant County Prosecutor Alec Beech, filling in for Chief Assistant County Prosecutor John Gamble, called the situation serious and said the “family, including the minor child, were living in squalor.” He asked Washam to consider sending Austin to jail for six months and then placing him on community control.

In addition to Washam reviewing the juvenile court records, the caseworker from Children Services, Michelle Fookes, was subpoenaed by defense attorney Kelly Linger. Fookes testified at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing that the child was reunified with the family in July 2018. The family had been making progress with the case plan and Fookes said she went from monitoring the family with home visits three-times a month starting in July to only once a month starting in January 2019.

Fookes also testified the family successfully completed a class that teaches home organizational skills, meal planning and budgeting.

“I know the facts in this case are disturbing,” Linger said, asking Washam to also take into consideration the lack of any prior criminal record for Austin and that the family has been successfully doing the things to remedy the situation. She notes Austin works and with his girlfriend no longer working her part-time job following the recent birth of their second child, he is the only support for the family.

“Incarceration will only set them back on the progress they have made,” Linger said.

Washam said in reviewing the records he simply could not understand even if Austin was unable to remedy the home while the home’s owner, his father was alive, he died in November 2017, which was four months before the conditions were discovered. Additionally, Washam said records show the mother of Austin’s child said the home was in that kind of condition due to Austin’s alcoholism.

Washam placed Austin on four years community control, but first sent him to the county jail for 60 days. He also was ordered to no longer own or care for companion animals.

djohnson@mojonews.com

COMMENTS