By Jim Talbert
The News & Press
Several months after their children committed suicide parents of two Tazewell County children face criminal charges
Jason and Janet Osbourne, step father and mother of 15-year-old Justin Dye and Richard Hodges, father of 16-year-old Kayla Hodges were arrested Dec. 12 on charges of felony child neglect. Suzanne Polkinghorne, live in girlfriend of Richard Hodges was also charged with felony child neglect.
Child neglect is a class four felony and carries up to 10 years in prison. All three were taken before a magistrate and released on bond. They will be arraigned in juvenile and domestic relations court later this week.
Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt announced the arrests during a press conference at the Tazewell County Career and Technical Center. Dye shot himself in his bedroom while Hodges hanged herself in the front yard.
Hieatt said Justin Dye had attempted to commit suicide several times and had been hospitalized several times for those attempts as well as depression and anxiety. He said contrary to rumors that have spread through the community since Oct. 15 of last year when the incident happened there was no evidence Dye was bullied.
The sheriff said the mother and step father are being charged because they allowed Dye to stop taking his prescribed medicine at the age of 14, did not follow the safety plan given to them for Justin and rarely kept him home where they could monitor him.
Hieatt said deputies found a full bottle of psychotropic medicine used to prevent suicidal thoughts in the home on the day Dye shot himself. He said they did not follow a safety plan prescribed by a team of mental health professionals.
“In fact, the firearm he used to kill himself belonged to his stepfather and was located in his, (the stepfather’s), nightstand,’ Hieatt said. According to sheriff’s office information, Hodges removed 13 of the 14 bullets from the 40 caliber gun and after calling 911 to report a suicide, used the remaining bullet to shoot himself in the heart.
Hieatt said the youngster’s mother did not know he was absent from school the day he killed himself and he was found at the top of the stairs with his phone playing mournful music. After several months of investigation, Commonwealth’s attorney Michael Lee Dennis announced Jan. 21 that no charges were being filed.
Hieatt was with Dennis at a school board meeting that day when the announcement was made that multiple factors led to the suicide. The sheriff said at that time that Deputy Jason Riggs and the boy’s mother entered the house and found his body.
Dennis, who was defeated in the Nov. 5 election, did not attend the Dec. 13 press conference and Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Brandon Goins was present but did not offer any comments.
The Hodges’ case bore many similarities and her death occurred six month to the day from Dye’s and also drew claims from the community that bullying was a factor. “As far as school records there was no indication of fighting or problems,’ Hieatt said.
At the time of her death the sheriff’s office reported she might have been cyber bullied. “When Kayla died there was again questions of her being bullied at school, and again the evidence we have found showed that the suffered at home from her father and pretend grandmother lead to her death.’
Polkinghorne was characterized as the fake grandmother of Hodges. Hieatt said she passed herself off to school officials and others as the grandmother when she had moved to the are from Florida two years ago and was in a sexual relationship with Richard Hodges, who she told people was her son.
Hieatt said there was evidence Hodges was cyberbullied but also evidence that her father allowed her to stop taking medication and cancelled her counseling sessions. He said the father also knew she was cutting herself in an attempt to commit suicide.
The sheriff said both victims were immersed in internet activity that was not supervised and that the parents had no control or knowledge of those events.