Teen Recovers In Hospital; Officials Consider Charges Against
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 12, 2004
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI--A malnourished, dehydrated teen was recuperating in a St. Louis hospital over the weekend, while officials considered whether to charge his mother with a crime.
Paul "Danny" Benko, 16, was improving after being given fluids intravenously, doctors at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital said Sunday. Those doctors expect to be able to slowly reintroduce Danny to food within the next three weeks.
Danny is under protective custody with the Children's Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services. Missouri authorities are investigating his case to determine if his mother, Lora Benko, committed any crimes.
Benko brought her son, who has cerebral palsy, mental retardation and epilepsy, to a Mount Vernon, Illinois hospital emergency room last week. He weighed just 40 pounds, was dehydrated, had bedsores, sunken eyes, protruding bones and appeared to be in shock. Illinois officials said he tested positive for marijuana and methamphetamine, neither of which he could have taken without assistance.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Lora Benko had been traveling through Illinois with her two sons, and her brother. She told social workers she was returning to their home in Niles, Michigan after seeking treatment for Danny in Texas.
The paper noted that he had been hospitalized in November, December, January and March at Michigan hospitals.
An assistant principal at Blossomland Learning Center, the specialized school that Danny attended in Berrien Springs, Michigan, said school nurses contacted county child authorities several times to report the boy's poor condition, but that nothing appeared to have been done.
Neighbors told the Post-Dispatch that the family appeared to have no income other than Danny's government benefits. Danny rarely left the house, except to go to school, some said. They explained that they were concerned about the boy's welfare, but that they were also afraid of retaliation from his violent father, Paul Benko.
Early news reports noted that Danny's father was not legally allowed to have contact with the boy.
"I think that she tried," said neighbor Rachel Robbins, who added that she sometimes allowed the Benkos to run an extension cord to her house so they would have electricity when their power was shut off.
"I know that she loved those kids."
Neighbors describe ravaged boy's family (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)