SPRING HILL — Someone called 911.
A 16-year-old boy — blind and mentally challenged — had collapsed in his family's bathroom July 14.
Paramedics rushed him to Spring Hill Regional Hospital. His organs were shutting down and his body was in septic shock. One of his eyes was black, and his arms, chest and legs were spotted with bruises.
The boy, in critical condition, was flown to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. There, he later told investigators what had happened. Reports state his adoptive father, Ronald White, forced the boy to drink a gallon of water the day before he collapsed, and it nearly killed him.
But investigators say White did much more than that: One night this month, the 36-year-old punched the boy in the face and kicked him in the head and body as he lay on the ground. Then, White locked him in a bedroom. The boy told deputies White had done that many times before, refusing to let him out to use the bathroom and forcing him to soil his pants.
White, of 1315 Medford Ave., was arrested Monday and charged with two counts of child abuse: One for great bodily harm and another for caging a child. His bond was set at $20,000, and he was later released from the Hernando County Detention Center.
His wife, Tammy, who detectives say corroborated the allegations, has not been charged. Sheriff's spokeswoman Cpl. Wendy McGinnis said the investigation is ongoing. No one answered the door at the home Tuesday morning.
The Whites also have 15- and 17-year-old adopted daughters. Florida Department of Children and Families spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner said the agency has sheltered the kids. The boy, she added, is still in the hospital.
"These cases are particularly difficult to understand. As an adoptive parent, you seek out this relationship with a child who you know has already been harmed by those supposed to love and protect them," she wrote in an e-mail.
"We are outraged by the allegations, and will continue to ensure the well-being and care for these children."
The couple had just adopted the three children within the last two or three years.
White and his wife, records show, have often been in financial trouble. The pair has filed for bankruptcy twice in Georgia, once in 2005 and again in 2008. The Whites said they owed $116,722.98 in the first bankruptcy and $31,422.21 in the second. Both filings were eventually dismissed because the couple didn't make payments.
In Georgia, people have a financial incentive to adopt — up to $486.67 per month for 13- to 18-year-old children. For three kids in that age range, that's $17,520.12 a year. It was unclear if those payments would have transferred to Florida or if the Whites would have received new financial incentives.
The family, neighbors say, had only moved into their Spring Hill rental home from Georgia about a month ago. Two cars parked in their driveway had Georgia license plates. A Florida State University flag hung from a column next to the front door.
Though some people had noticed either one or both of the daughters, no one interviewed said they had ever seen the boy.
Neighbors said they seemed friendly. Tammy waved when she drove by, and one of the daughters occasionally rode other neighborhood children around on her scooter.
Marilyn Scaccio, 57, also just recently moved onto Medford Avenue and had only met Ronald White once. She found the family's puppy in her back yard a few weeks ago and had returned it to them.
"He just took the puppy and said thank you," she said of White. "He seemed like a decent guy."
Scaccio was shocked when she heard of the allegations from a reporter.
"That's horrible," she said. "It's appalling."
One of the cars in the Whites' driveway was a black Camaro. A row of smiling, cartoon stick figures was pasted to its back window — a man and woman, three kids, a dog and a cat.
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Melvin Backman can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.