The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

December 6, 2013

Open dump lands man behind bars

Failure to clean up his Fitzpatrick Road property, which has been declared an “open dump,” landed 74-year-old Charles Keller with a 90-day sentence in Southern Regional Jail on Thursday.

At an October hearing, Keller was ordered to pay a $300 fine, $100 for each count of operating an open dump, and was ordered to have his property cleaned up before his next hearing in December. If not cleaned then, Keller would serve 30 days for each count, to run consecutively for a total jail sentence of 90 days.

Raleigh County Litter Control Officer Jim Stone stated that he visited the property Wednesday to see what progress had been made over the past two months.

“In my opinion, it’s still an open dump,” Stone said.

Stone presented several photographs to the court illustrating the magnitude of trash still present on the property.

He stated that he did notice a decrease in the amount of trash, but he would not call the progress significant, as only about 5- to 10 percent was removed.  

Witness John Dunn, also a littler control officer, described the state of the property as “horrendous.”

“There’s trash and junk everywhere. It’s filthy,” he said.

Dunn, like Stone, also testified to noticing “some difference” in the amount of trash recently.

Keller’s daughter, Robin Overbay, took the witness stand and defended her father by stating that the family had been working very hard to help clean the property, but it had been a difficult endeavor due to her mother’s compulsive hoarding disorder.

“When you’re dealing with a hoarder, and my mom is a hoarder, it’s very hard ... ,” Overbay said.

Overbay said the family has had to video their mother’s reactions to disposing of garbage because even very small acts — such as disposing of broken flower pots — can cause her severe emotional distress.

“We were under time pressure and my mother exploded. She literally exploded,” Overbay said, adding that the family was forced to put the clean up efforts on hold for a while as a result.

Overbay stated that the family had taken five trips to the landfill to dispose of trash.

After listening to the witness testimony and reviewing photo evidence, Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick determined that Keller had not made enough of an effort in cleaning up his property.

“ ... There is still a huge quantity of junk. It appears to the court there are windows, rusty folding chairs, junked automobiles and things that were there the last time we were here for our trial,” Kirkpatrick said. “The court wanted to give the defendant and his family an opportunity of 60 days to rectify the situation in full.

“The court believes and finds that some effort has been made, but it’s only about 10 percent effort, which is, frankly, not enough. I’m fearful that the defendant may never clean up the property.”

Kirkpatrick added that the court takes no pleasure in sending anyone to jail, “particularly not an infirm gentleman of advanced years.”

“However, the law is the law and the court intends to abide by it,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick finished by stating that if Keller makes significant efforts through his family to clean the property while serving his jail time, the court will release him from state custody.

“In other words, cleaning up this property is the key to your jail cell. If you’ll arrange to have somebody come in and cart off this stuff and clean up your property, I’ll release you from jail. I don’t know how further to proceed, because this open dump has to be cleaned up.”

Keller was taken into custody and remanded to SRJ immediately following the court’s judgment.

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