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Larry's Law

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Legislation aimed at improving the care and safety of those in personal care homes

By Stevie Lowery

Wednesday, April 18, was a bittersweet day for Melissa Lee Knight and her family.

It was the day Gov. Steve Beshear signed Senate Bill 115 "Larry's Law" in honor of Knight's brother, Larry, 32, who walked away from a personal care home in August of 2011. He was found dead four weeks later on the banks of the Licking River not far from Falmouth Nursing Home in Pendleton County.

While the Lee family spoke with Gov. Beshear and received a standing ovation of support on the Senate floor, Knight was overcome with emotion and thoughts of her brother. It was a poignant moment.

"Larry cared about others' well being and would often give his clothes away to other patients he saw as less fortunate than him," she said. "While it is so gratifying to see this law passed in his honor... I couldn't help but think of how much he suffered in life and how he was routinely misunderstood, shuffled around, or flatly ignored. There are many lessons we can all learn from this tragedy."

His death prompted state leaders to take a long, hard look at how brain-injured people in Kentucky, like Larry, are cared for and where they are placed.

Falmouth Nursing Home, the personal care home where Larry was placed, was not the appropriate facility for him, according to his family.

"Larry's Law" will require an individual to be examined and assessed by a qualified mental health professional prior to admission to a personal-care home and prohibit the admission of a person under the age of 18 to a personal-care home.

"It is my hope that this law is the first step of many toward improving the care we provide for individuals with conditions like Larry's," Knight said. "Proper placement is critical to their health and quality of life. In Larry's case, proper placement was a matter of life or death, and his is not an isolated incident."

Knight said she is very thankful to State Rep. Terry Mills and State Sen. Jimmy Higdon for their work in getting "Larry's Law" passed. Both Mills and Higdon helped search for Larry when he was missing, and it touched a nerve with both of them.

"When this tragedy occurred last summer, I grieved with the community the loss of Larry," Mills said. "I have since learned that there are many problems in our state with the way we care for our mentally ill and brain-injured citizens."

While Senate Bill 115 does not solve all of the problems, it's a step in the right direction, Mills said.

"I want to thank Melissa Knight and the Larry Lee family for their diligence in making this positive step happen," he said.

Higdon said he hopes the passage of "Larry's Law" gives the family a sense of "closure."

But, Knight said there are still many unanswered questions.

"I don't know that our family will ever completely have closure," she said. "So many questions are left unanswered and the Kentucky State Police investigation into his death remains open."

The family desperately wants answers, according to Larry Lee's father, Larry.

"We still have so many questions," he said. "There are so many things we may never know. To this day, we still haven't gotten an autopsy report, police report, nothing."

According to Kentucky State Police Detective Chris Jaskowiak, Larry's case hasn't been closed yet, but that's mainly because of "procedural matters," he said.

"I'm trying to make a final determination of the cause of death," Jaskowiak said. "I'm just doing my best to answer some questions for the family."

Jaskowiak said he expects to close the case within the next two months.

"I have other investigations I'm working on... but I'm nearing the conclusion of this case," he said. "I want to make sure that I can give the family all the answers that I possibly can."