Questions Raised About Bardstown Fire Victims' Fund

BARDSTOWN, KY -- After 10 people were killed in a Bardstown house fire a year ago, community members rallied to help the family -- putting out donation jars at local businesses, holding silent auctions and sending checks, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal in its Saturday edition.

Their efforts raised $142,148.39. But now, some donors are questioning why more than $85,000 of the money that was given is sitting unspent in a Bardstown bank account, when it could be used to help the survivors and their families.

They are challenging the three-person committee that is overseeing that fund, and questioning why committee members want to use some of the remaining money to help victims of other fires, reports the C-J.

They say committee members are too controlling about the money, even requiring one of the survivors, Darrell Maddox, to sign a document stating that the committee had no obligation to help him, and making him promise to seek counseling for personal problems in order to receive more money for his rent and utilities, the C-J reports.

"It's was very degrading to him," said Laura Holt, who works with Maddox at Bardstown Mills and donated $100 to the fund.

Holt said the fund was meant to help Maddox and three other family members meet basic needs, including housing.

"It wasn't and isn't a general fire victims fund," she said.

But there is enough money to help more than Maddox and his family, said Mike Abell, who is on the fund committee and is Bardstown's chief financial officer, reports the newspaper.

Ten members of the Maddox family were killed in the blaze on Feb. 6, 2007: Sherry Maddox, 47; Johnny Litsey, 52; Sherry's daughter Crystal Maddox, 30, and her daughters De'Ashia McKinney, 10, and Nakiya McKinney, 8; Sherry's daughter Demita Jo "Ann" Maddox, 26, and her 2-year-old twins, Heaven and Earth; Dariyel Maddox, 3; and Ann'Ashia Maddox, 1.

Four family members were direct survivors of the fire, including Darrell Maddox, who was inside the home and was the only person to get out. The others are Maddox's two siblings, who lived in the home that was destroyed, and Yohonna Maddox, 6, a daughter of victim Demita Maddox. Darrell Maddox didn't comment for this story, the newspaper reports.

Soon after the fire, people started coming forward, asking how they could give money to the survivors and family of the victims. Mayor Richard Heaton set up a fund through a local bank to accept donations.

Heaton and Abell listed themselves as the authorized signers on the private account.

Once money started coming in, Abell said he and others decided that he, a member of the ministerial society, and Rosalias Bunkley, a member of First Baptist Church, would be the trustees of the fund.

Bunkley and Abell now are the authorized signers, Abell said. No guidelines were created about how the money would be disbursed, he said. He said an attorney is working on necessary paperwork to register the fund as a charitable organization, reports the C-J.

"There was a fire and everybody responded from their heart," Abell said.

Since the fund was created, $44,015 has been used for burial-related costs, including $1,250 toward each of several gravestones.

An additional $12,601 was used for personal needs of the survivors, including rent, utilities, furniture, car repairs and household expenses.

The committee has determined that most of the immediate needs of the survivors have been met, Abell said. With more than $85,000 left in the fund, the group decided to start one to help future victims, the newspaper reports.

Now that questions have been raised about what to do with the remaining funds, a letter has been sent to 900 known donors, informing them of how the money has been spent and the plans for the fund, reports the Courier-Journal.

Copyright: The Louisville Courier-Journal

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