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Bernice Vickers

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BELLEVILLE -- Landlord Gerald Feder became so concerned about 90-year-old Bernice Vickers that he called the elder abuse hotline three months before she was found dead in her apartment.
Feder learned Vickers' relative also called the hotline just a month before she died.
"I thought something was going to happen," Feder said. "Nothing came of it, and now she's dead."
Belleville police confirmed there were at least two reports to the Illinois Department on Aging's elder abuse hotline.
"Due to strict confidentiality laws, the department cannot comment on whether an elder abuse report related to this case was received," Jessica Woodward, the agency's spokesman, stated in a written response. "The purpose of the statutory confidentiality is to protect, to the extent provided by law, the identity of the reporters of elder abuse cases and the privacy of the older victims of elder abuse."
Bernice Vickers was found dead on a cot in the living room of her apartment at 16 Orchard View Court after newspaper carrier Frank Voss found her daughter, Karen Vickers, 65, lying in the apartment's parking lot about 4:45 a.m. Sept. 6.
Police later arrived and took an intoxicated Karen Vickers into her apartment and found Bernice, who had been dead at least 12 hours, according to police reports. Karen Vickers was charged with criminal neglect.
Feder came forward after Bernice Vickers' death. He said he called the state hotline about three months ago after he learned Karen Vickers left her mother, who needed constant care, alone for four and five hours at time.
The Department on Aging never contacted Feder about the report.
Later, Feder entered the apartment to fix a broken air conditioner. The conditions were deplorable, he said, with dirty dishes and clothes strewn around the apartment.
"It smelled just terrible. When Bernice lived there alone, the house was always clean and neat," Feder said. "She was a very classy lady. She didn't deserve to die like that."
Karen Vickers was charged on Tuesday with two counts of criminal neglect of an elderly person. She remains in St. Clair County Jail on $100,000 bail.
Voss, a Belleville News-Democrat carrier, was delivering newspapers in the area Sept. 6 when he saw Vickers lying near the open door of her car with the contents of her purse scattered across the parking lot.
"I asked her if she was all right and if I could help her. She said she was fine," said Voss, who continued on his route until he saw a passing police officer.
Voss offered to call 911, but he said Karen Vickers strongly protested. Voss left, but called his friend and fellow carrier Julie Korniluk to come check on the woman, then flagged the officer down. The three arrived at the parking and found Karen Vickers still on the ground.
"That was when I smelled the alcohol on her," Voss said. "We got her up and to the apartment. It was scary in there -- like something out of the movie 'Seven' or the television show 'CSI.'"
Voss and Korniluk spotted Bernice Vickers lying on a cot in the living room.
"I knew immediately that she was dead," Korniluk said. "There was a hose hooked up to her, but her eyes were glazed, she wasn't blinking and her chest wasn't rising. I've seen some weird things delivering papers, but I've never seen a dead body."
Voss and Korniluk left to finish their route, leaving the police officer with Vickers.
Karen Vickers moved in with her mother about six years ago after Bernice Vickers' husband, Jack, died, Feder said. Feder rented to Bernice and Jack Vickers for 21 years.
"This just breaks my heart," Feder said. "They could and should have done something. This didn't have to happen this way."
Published in Belleville News-Democrat on Sept. 15, 2007
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