NEW PORT RICHEY — Two young Pasco County boys with cognitive disabilities were flown early Friday to Tampa General Hospital, where nurses examined them after their rescue from a mobile home fire.
Because of what the nurses found, the boys will not go home with their parents, a judge decided Monday.
The boys were treated for smoke inhalation. But as nurses looked the boys over, they noticed more problems.
What first appeared to be soot in the boys' mouths was actually severe tooth decay, according to a report from the Pasco Sheriff's Child Protective Investigation Unit. Nurses found the boys — one age 5 and 35 pounds and the other age 6 and 41 pounds — were "grossly underweight and malnourished," the report states. Investigators began looking into their parents' pasts.
A collection of Child Protective Services investigations over the years paints Jesse and Tammie Ledbetter as terribly irresponsible parents.
Tammie Ledbetter's parental rights were revoked for six children she had before the boys. Reports allege that her children were found in neighbors' yards without her knowledge while she was supposed to be supervising them and that she had sex in front of one of her children.
In a case from 2002, reports state, she touched them inappropriately. Another report states that Ledbetter was found in the shower, soaping herself with one hand while she used the other to feed one of her children who was perched in a car seat on the shower's ledge.
The reports state an evaluation by Sexual Health Awareness Rehabilitation Education showed Jesse Ledbetter admitted to sexually abusing a 9-year-old nephew in 1995. Doctors recommended that he not be allowed to live with his sons until he underwent therapy. The two boys were taken away from the family in 2008 and reunited with Tammie a year later, but not with Jesse. He is not allowed to be alone with the children because he did not complete the sex offender treatment, the report states.
Reports state Tammie continued to allow him to interact with the children unsupervised.
The fire on Friday engulfed the family's doublewide mobile home on Old Shady Hills Road. Five adults, ranging in age from 35 to 80, and the two boys made their way out of the burning home, a fire rescue spokesman said. The family lost the home and everything inside, including eight animals. The fire's cause is still being investigated.
In a custody hearing Monday morning, Tammie Ledbetter meticulously listed the medications she gives the boys to treat their attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorders. Both boys also have Asperger syndrome. The 5-year-old also has cerebral palsy. She said they are underweight because of their medication and that she feeds both of them Pediasure to keep them healthy.
"My kid would eat anybody out of their house and home," Tammie Ledbetter said in an interview after the hearing.
Judge Thomas Ramsberger ruled that the boys will not go home with their parents when they are released from the hospital. They are being evaluated for medical foster care and will live with relatives if they do not qualify. The Ledbetters will be allowed visitation after the boys are released. The next court hearing is in April.
As for her children's teeth, she said that dentists would only be able to treat them if the boys were under sedation because of their disabilities.
She spoke to reporters about her motherly responsibilities, always making sure the boys were clean and taking them to the doctor whenever they needed it.
"I don't leave my kids wet," she said. "I don't leave my kids dirty."
Asked when she might be able to see the boys again, Tammie began to cry. She said she doesn't know when she'll see them again and that she feels hurt.
Contact Alex Orlando at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.