Deborah Goff of Springdale wrote last week following my column about the choking death of David Cains after eating while under the control of staffers at the Booneville Human Development Center in 2020.
The resulting lawsuit filed by David's family is scheduled to be heard before the state Claims Commission on April 9.
Deborah said she and her husband, who years ago lived in Russellville, adopted a 3-year-old son named Lacy who was developmentally delayed and autistic.
In 1982 they placed Lacy in an early intervention program called Friendship Inc. It was there that he and David met.
They bonded quickly and David became Lacy's first friend. Although Lacy didn't talk much at that time, Deborah said he always said David's name when they were off to school each morning. "We have fond memories of David Cains, and Lacy loved David," she said.
They even developed their own language, Deborah said. "I remember their teacher (sorry, I can't remember her name) often talked about the 'language' Lacy and David developed." It became difficult to get them to pay attention to activities when they were always looking at each other, talking and laughing.
Deborah remembers walking in to pick Lacy up at the end of one day and their teacher told her if she heard the phrase 'ah beesh' one more time she might go crazy.
"It was delightful to watch them play, stop to look at each other for a moment, and say, 'Ah beesh.'"
The Goffs lost track of David when Lacy left for public school.
Lacy and David were in their teens when they reconnected. "We went over to the home where David lived with a couple at the time in Russellville. David and Lacy spent time together a couple of weekends and saw each other here and there at events for special-needs kids," Deborah said.
"Lacy was much more verbal then, and David was not as verbal, but he and David could still make each other laugh."
Deborah believes Lacy and David followed somewhat similar life experiences. "We were always in search of the right placement for Lacy, as I am sure David's family was as well. Lacy's behavior could be challenging and it was difficult to find just the right place.
"Our son had many varied interests, but was often erratic. We were trying to find a better environment for Lacy, and that's when Kenny and I toured Booneville HDC, and were delighted to see David again, engaged in work he seemed to enjoy."
David's presence made them seriously consider placing Lacy at the Booneville facility, but decided against it since they lived in Springdale at that time and felt the drive would be too far to visit and regularly check firsthand on Lacy's well-being.
"Those of us who love adults with developmental delays want our family members to have an independent life, as much as is possible. When we entrust our loved ones to an HDC or other facility, we expect the staff there to treat these special adults with respect and care," she said.
Although David and Lacy walked similar yet different paths in life, they both concluded their lifetimes in facilities away from home.
Deborah said Lacy was living in a nursing home close to his adoptive family when he passed away in his sleep in 2016 due to complications from Huntington's disease.
"We felt such sadness when we heard of David's passing at Booneville HDC in 2020," said Deborah. "To find out later that he had died in terror in the care of staff members at that facility breaks my heart.
"I'm so grateful that you have shone a light on this case. I hope David's sister, Christine McAuliffe, succeeds in getting justice for him."
Deborah Goff's account of her son's joyful and tender relationship with David that began in early childhood and spanned into their early adult years to me represents the best humanity has to offer. It demonstrates our capacity to bond deeply through laughter and mutual understanding, regardless of our IQ levels.
I'm certain you've had them, too. For that matter, our entire state may be buried hour after hour beneath the endless solicitation calls from female voices wanting to sell me everything from medical plans to car repair insurance.
And they've gotten downright sneaky about it. Well, it was sneaky for a while until I figured out the dishonest caller ID shows these supposedly are coming from different smaller towns across Arkansas rather than the urban sprawls we've learned to ignore.
Now when I see one of these calls from "Hector" or "Bald Knob" pop up, I answer without speaking, wait a second and begin pecking my fingernail on the screen to sound like a computer tabulating.
After about five seconds I mechanically utter the words "still tracing" into the phone, which promptly goes dead on the other end.
So far, that hasn't thwarted the flow, but strangely, it's made me feel better.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]