Patton man charged in death of mother

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

PATTON, Mo. -- A Patton man has been charged in the events surrounding the death of his mother.

Eric Lichte, 58, faces charges of tampering with physical evidence, involuntary manslaughter and elder abuse.

Sgt. Eric Sarakas of the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department and Bollinger County Coroner Charles Hutchings went to the Lichte residence Thursday to investigate the death of Wanda Lichte, 83, also of Patton, according to a probable-cause statement filed Friday.

The statement read that upon their arrival to the residence, Lichte said his mother had shallow breathing the night before and that she had stopped breathing around 3:30 a.m. Thursday. He told the deputy he went to bed at 4:30 a.m. and called Liley Funeral home about six hours later to report his mother's death.

"The fact he would go to sleep at that point rather than calling family members or calling for medical assistance at any time that night is something we've noted as a concern," said Bollinger County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Gray.

According to the statement, Wanda Lichte was found lying on her bed, "arms folded as if she was in a casket for viewing, and she was fully dressed in neat clothing. Her hair appeared to be neatly combed."

Sarakas stated the bed had a plastic cover in place of sheets.

Once her body was examined at the coroner's office, the statement said, she was found to have large, open bedsores and appeared to be malnourished because her joints and ribs were visible.

Lichte was arrested Thursday afternoon, at which time he was questioned by Sgt. Stanley Petton of the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department.

According to the statement, Lichte said his mother asked him to take care of her about 10 years ago, when he sold his house in Colorado and moved in with her.

Lichte said in the interview that his mother was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease but that he had not taken her to see a doctor in two years. According to the probable-cause statement, he had not notified any doctors of her diabetes and Alzheimer's because he was honoring his mother's wishes.

The statement also said that the funeral home reported that Lichte asked that his mother not be embalmed, and that Lichte said he spoke to other members of his family and that none of them would be attending the funeral, so a graveside service would suffice.

"It's obvious he didn't want the full extent of her condition to be known," Gray said.

Sgt. Phil Gregory of the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department contacted one of Lichte's brothers in Hawaii, and according to the probable-cause statement, he said he hadn't spoken with his brother and that he would be attending the funeral.

An autopsy was performed at the Mineral Area Regional Center by Dr. Russell Deidiker. According to the probable-cause statement, Wanda Lichte's death was ruled a homicide through neglect. Deidiker's report read that she was malnourished and dehydrated.

Gray said families must be able to recognize there are times and situations in which a hospital or nursing home might be the best way to care for someone.

"There's just not a good reason to let a family member suffer when there's professional help available," he said. "He really should've gotten professional help some time ago to avoid this kind of situation."

In the probable-cause statement, it was noted that Lichte said he "was taking care of her the best he knew how."

Lichte is in custody at the Bollinger County Jail, Gray said.

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