ELYRIA — Four children are in foster care and one is being treated for heat exhaustion at the hospital after city employees discovered them in the cargo area of a U-Haul truck Wednesday.
Matthew Pearce and Nicholas Vealey, both full-time employees in the city’s Street Department, are credited with saving the lives of the five children whose caretakers have since been charged with child endangerment.
The children — ages 15, 6, 4, 3 and 2 — all were suffering from fleas, bedbugs and lice, and some had ringworm. The 2-year-old was treated for heat exhaustion at University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center and then flown to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland where Capt. Chris Costantino said the child remained Thursday.
Costantino said the U-Haul truck was a 10-foot box truck.
“It was on the smaller end, which was even more disturbing,” he said.
At the time of the incident, the children were in the care of Jamie Adkins and Brian Dekam.
Adkins, 25, of Storer Avenue, Cleveland, and Dekam, 55, of Lorain Avenue, Cleveland, are charged with four counts each of endangering children.
Adkins told officers that she and Dekam left for Jamie’s Flea Market in Amherst at 4:30 a.m. from Cleveland and were on their way back when they stopped at the Speedway gas station on Lorain Boulevard in Elyria to fuel up.
Adkins told police that she is “like a godmother” to the children and that their mother, Kimberly Hull, knew how they were being transported. Adkins told police Hull said, “Sounds fun, hope the kids have fun.”
Adkins told officers she enjoys being with the children because she can’t have any of her own and had been taking care of them for two weeks and Hull hadn’t seen them at all during that time.
Costantino said Hull did arrive at Speedway after police were called, and there could be additional charges filed against her by Cleveland police.
Cuyahoga County Children Services was called to investigate after the incident.
Pearce said he and Vealey were on a break about 2 p.m. Wednesday when they noticed a child in the back of the U-Haul.
“We both looked at each other like, something is not right out there,” Pearce said. “They had shut the door and were getting ready to pull off, and at that time I could not let them pull off with a young child in the back.
“I ran out there and stopped the vehicle and I asked the man to get out as politely as I could.”
What happened next, Pearce said, shocked him.
Dekam rolled up the back of the truck to reveal five children and two dogs. The dogs were removed by the dog warden.
“It smelled like feces and reeked of cigarettes,” Pearce said.
The youngest child, Pearce said, was strapped into a car seat and appeared to be unresponsive and “was bright red as a tomato.”
By this time, an employee of Speedway had called 911 and Vealey had run to the nearby fire station to get help. Employees at Speedway referred all questions to the corporate office.
“I walked into the U-Haul, just kind of plugged my nose, and grabbed (the 2-year old) out of the car seat because he was slouched over and he was very hot and pouring with sweat,” Pearce said. “With my having two children, 5 and 8 months old, I could have never lived with myself if they had pulled off. That would be on my conscience to where I wouldn’t be able to live or sleep at night.”
Vealey bought water for the children while they waited for emergency responders at Speedway.
“The situation could have been a lot worse,” Vealey said. “It was a scene we wish we had never seen. I was devastated.”
Slowly, Pearce said, the 2-year-old became alert and was looking around and smiling while emergency medical services took his vitals.
“I was overtaken with emotion at that point. I’m not a confrontational kind of guy, but I just did what I had to do,” Pearce said. “If those were the baby sitters, I couldn’t even imagine the living situations of those children. If I could, I would foster all of them.”
A bystander, Sandra Gibbons, said firefighters brought toys to the children and the employees of Speedway offered the children pizza.
Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda bestowed praise on both employees at City Hall on Thursday and said they would be formally honored at a Council meeting Monday.
“What happened (Wednesday) was so very extraordinary,” Brinda said. “These two young men saw a situation that was absolutely deplorable and their true character came out and they literally changed the trajectory of five young lives.
“It’s quite amazing that they would be in the course of their regular day and see something and knew to say something, and not only say something, but to take physical action that could have actually put their own lives in danger.”
Costantino said it’s possible that the 2-year-old would have not survived the trip back to Cleveland if not for the two men stepping in.
Adkins and Dekam appeared Thursday morning in Elyria Municipal Court for arraignments. Both were given personal bonds on the condition that they have no contact with the children, except for the 15-year-old, who is the son of Dekam.
The pair is due back in court for a probable cause hearing Thursday.
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- Mayor honors Elyria employees who found kids inside U-Haul (UPDATE/VIDEO/PHOTOS)
- Employees save kids: “…He was about as bright red as a tomato.” (VIDEO)