Man jailed, woman charged, 8 children go to foster care
GILPIN -- Police allege that eight children, ages 3 to 16, were forced to live in a house without windows or heat, with garbage on the floors and raw sewage in the basement.
The children were removed from the house Feb. 1.
Police are charging John Joseph Lytle, 44, of Tegoni Road in the village of Schenley, and Tami Ann Lytle, 33, who visited her children in the house and occasionally stayed there, police said.
Both are scheduled to have preliminary hearings Wednesday in Leechburg.
The six girls and two boys are in three foster homes in the custody of the Armstrong County Children, Youth and Family Services.
John Lytle is charged with simple assault, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of children. Police say he punched and hit one of the older girls.
He is in the Armstrong County Jail in lieu of $15,000 cash or property bond.
Lytle was arrested Feb. 26 at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital in East Franklin, where he had requested a mental-health evaluation, police said.
Tami Lytle, who said she is his former common-law wife, was charged Thursday with child endangerment. She was released pending the hearing after posting $10,000 bond.
Tami Lytle said she has spent the past three weeks renovating the house. She claims the deplorable conditions happened while she was recovering from a traffic accident in late January in Allegheny Township.
She accuses John Lytle of not keeping the house's wood and coal burner lit.
"That caused the (water) pipes to burst," she said.
That cut off water to the house, backed up the house's only toilet and sent sewage into the basement, Tami Lytle said Monday while being interviewed in the tidy kitchen of the five-bedroom house.
Tami Lytle said she worked and stayed at a horse farm in Washington Township but visited the children at least weekly until she was in the crash.
She said she was startled to learn about what police found and shocked that she was arrested.
Police, however, believe she knew the house was unsafe.
The house sits along steep, deeply rutted dirt road. The closed Schenley distillery can be seen down the hill near the Allegheny River.
According to a township police report, on Feb. 1 three police officers accompanied a social worker to investigate claims by two of the children that they had been punched and slapped. In the police report, written by Gilpin Patrolman Todd Harbaugh, the children said the family was living in filth.
Police said they saw a lot of garbage surrounding the outside of the house, whose exterior is covered in silver, reflective insulation but little siding. They said they saw blankets covering some windows that had no glass in them.
They also said that a door was secured by a combination lock.
They said no one answered despite knocking many times, although they saw a lit Christmas tree suddenly go dark.
"With the possibility of at least two children who were assaulted and unaccounted for, and the possibility of more children being endangered inside," the report said, police forced open the lock and went inside.
Police said they saw garbage and partially eaten food on the kitchen and living room floor, dirty clothes strewn everywhere, exposed wires and "an odor ... that was so strong that it made it difficult to breathe."
Police said they could only stay inside five minutes because of the stench.
Two "very scared and very dirty" young children walked down the steps from the second floor. Police said the boy and girl told them they didn't hear anyone knocking.
Police said they were the only ones home inside the padlocked house.
When police asked the children how they would get outside in case of an emergency, one said they would go to an upstairs bedroom, climb out on the roof and use a ladder leaning against the house to reach the ground about 15 feet below.
Tami Lytle told a reporter she was upset because police told her several times that the authorities were investigating her husband and that charges would be filed against him. She also said she wasn't called by the children or anyone else about the pipes or other problems.
Tami Lytle said a new furnace has been obtained.
"It's in the basement waiting to be installed," she said. The wood stove had a roaring fire inside yesterday.
The pipes have been fixed and she has been working to clean up the house.
"I have completely renovated it," she said.
She said the county Children, Youth and Family Services has inspected the house several times since and said she was on the right track to get the children back.
The preliminary hearings are scheduled Wednesday afternoon before District Judge Michael Gerheim.
Chuck Biedka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.