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Couple gets probation over home's condition

Charges followed probe into teen's death

POSTED: October 28, 2012 12:02 a.m.
For the Forsyth County News/

Laura Lancaster

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Owners of the home where a North Forsyth High student was found dead pleaded guilty to reckless conduct and littering.

Laura and Robert Lancaster were sentenced to two years of probation as well as community service for the charges, which were unrelated to Trey Scott Spencer’s November 2011 death.

Spencer was found dead in the Lancaster’s yard the morning after he visited the Lancasters’ 14-year-old son.

Authorities ruled the death accidental. As part of their investigation, they searched the Lancasters’ home and found a dead opossum, feces, bugs, mold and other debris inside.

As a result, the Lancasters were charged with cruelty to children, a charge reduced in a plea negotiation between Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahoney, the couple and their attorney, Kevin Quirk.

When presenting the plea arrangement to Forsyth County Superior Court Judge David Dickinson, Mahoney said the state usually isn’t in the business of regulating how residents keep the inside of their home.

But because the Lancasters had four children living there, two of them minors, Mahoney said “the condition of the home was a threat to the … children.”

Mahoney described the home as being in an “absolutely deplorable condition.”

Dickinson sought a reason for the condition of the home.

“The house just got out of control, your honor,” Quirk said. “These folks have four kids. They are good people.”

Quirk explained Laura Lancaster had health issues due to a knee injury, as well as emotional issues that kept her in bed many days.

Both Lancasters took responsibility for their home’s condition.

“I consider it to be my fault as a mom that it was a mess,” Laura Lancaster said. “Nobody was more disgusted with my house than me. … I’m ashamed and embarrassed.”

“As the man of the house, I should have been leading the charge on that,” Robert Lancaster said.

Quirk, who said the couple had their home completely cleaned and has kept it that way ever since, also touched on Spencer’s death.

He explained the Lancasters were on St. Simons Island and their children were staying with their grandmother. The couple decided to spend one extra day on the island, leaving their 18-year-old daughter in charge. Their 14-year-old son and his friend, Spencer, were engaged in mischief, Quirk said.

The sheriff’s report showed a friend told authorities the boys were drinking bourbon, smoking marijuana, huffing dust cleaner and taking Klonopin, a prescription medication used to treat anxiety and seizures.

Quirk said Spencer left the home, but later returned to retrieve a cell phone. However he never made it back inside the home, he said.

“This friend was a very, very good friend of their son’s,” Quirk said of the Lancasters’ relationship with Spencer. “They loved him like a son.”

Dickinson sentenced the Lancasters to 2 years on probation, with a review of their case at 12 months. He also said he wanted to enlist the support of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to conduct surprise visits to make sure the couple is “keeping up” with maintaining a safe, clean home for their four children.

“I do want home visits on this case,” he said.

 

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