Two Child Deaths at Jacksonville Apartment Complex Leave Parents Concerned

Two Child Deaths at Jacksonville Apartment Complex Leave Parents Concerned

A number of tenants of Willow Bend apartments say they're concerned for other children's safety after two boys die within a week. Some wonder if housing conditions played a role.
JACKSONVILLE, AR - "He had just turned two. I had just bought him this," she said, pointing to the battery-operated truck.

About a month ago, Jessica Rollins celebrated her son's birthday.

" I don't want to do anything to his room. I want it to stay how it is," she said.

This is the first time she's visited his room since July 26. That's the day Ka'Marion's father found him lifeless in bed.

"They [doctors] said it might be fluid on his lungs. I couldn't understand how he would have fluid on his lungs and nobody could tell us," she said.

Ka'Marion had been treated for bronchial issues that doctors were having a hard time diagnosing, but Rollins said he was otherwise happy and healthy, playing just hours before they went to bed.

On Saturday, August 2, she buried the boy who just turned into a toddler.

"Your child is supposed to bury you. You're not supposed to bury your child," she said.

Ka'Marion's death was initially called in and reported, police say as respiratory arrest. It happened just three days after a 2-month-old boy also died suddenly in the same apartment complex.

"They all seem to be passing away the same way, and we don't have any answers," Rollins said.

It could take up to 10 weeks for an official cause of death to be determined. That has parents across Willow Bend worried the link could be where they live.

"I want them to tear into these walls, pull the carpets," said Marquese Hughes, Ka'Marion's father. "I want a state agency or somebody to come in and take a look at this. Otherwise, I'm afraid nothing will be done. We need answers."

"Some of these apartments have mold," Rollins said. "And my son plays at these apartments that have mold. I don't know if it's here in our apartment. Code enforcement came out, but they haven't told us anything."

When Carolyn Hicks' 5-month-old son began experiencing respiratory issues, she rushed him to the hospital two days prior to Ka'Marion's death.

"That could have been my son if I didn't catch it in time," she said.

Initial diagnoses pointed to allergen exposure and recommended a mold count. Hicks went on to Arkansas Children's Hospital where more doctors conducted more tests.

"He was coughing and sneezing black up," she said. "They told me to get him out of the apartment as soon as possible."

Hicks said she is moving out of her apartment, claiming maintenance has refused to fix flooded carpets. According to her, maintenance opted to place fan on the floors, but the carpet is still visibly soggy with every step. She also claims the crew simply painted over what was mold growing through her ceiling.

"They sent code out here. But the lady [management] was pushing, basically not letting us talk to Code Enforcement," Hicks said. "They covering it up with paint."

Jemia Hollis' infant daughter is being treated by Children's Hospital for a rash that has also been attributed to environmental allergens.

She sent an email to management in May regarding mold growing on her walls, which she said maintenance sprayed with lyme but then boarded up without replacing.

On Tuesday, tenants were informed a home inspection, required by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), would be conducted starting Wednesday.

We were there as, prior the inspection, maintenance workers came to remove Hollis' damaged carpets she had also complained about in May.

"The maintenance and management here they will either avoid it or cover it up. They're not really fixing the problem," Rollins said. "We have a broken window that hasn't been fixed for almost a month."

According to Hicks, and others, Code Enforcement recently inspected Willow Bend, but Jacksonville Code Enforcement tells us it has no official mold cases for the apartment.

In our time at the complex, we viewed multiple units, seeing a variety of damage from broken windows to peeling ceilings that residents allege are ongoing and never fixed.

"We can't bring our daughter home. We're going to have to look into moving," she said.

Rollins said funds are a hurdle to leaving the home. Her family is also reluctant to leave behind the memories of their son inside these walls. But she fears the cost of staying could be too much.

HUD officials confirm this apartment complex receives federal subsidies. As such, management and owners are responsible for providing a safe, sanitary environment.

According to HUD, a company known as Southwest Housing Compliance Corporation (SHCC) oversees compliance issues with federal housing standards and apartment management.

If tenants find they are having ongoing issues, have reported concerns to management that go unfixed and have no luck speaking with the owners to resolve the issue, they can call SHCC to file a complaint at 1-888-842-4484.

We called the management company responsible for Willow Bend, but they have not returned our calls.

Owner Andre Koren told us he was not aware of any ongoing complaints or issues voiced by tenants. He added that he believed allegations of maintenance taking weeks or months are untrue, citing a policy of maintenance staff living on site and a process for filling out work orders.

When we asked if he was aware two children had died in his apartment complex in the span of a week, he declined to comment.
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