Kim Lewis-McClellan knew something was wrong with her 7-year-old son when he came to spend Christmas 2007 with her in Illinois.
The boy, who had been living with his father in Las Vegas, complained of stomachaches and exhibited asthmatic symptoms. His teeth were rotting and brown.
Lewis-McClellan took her son to the emergency room, but the doctor who examined him attributed the problems to allergies.
Almost three years later, the mother has this message for parents: “Pay attention to the signs of your kids.”
In February 2008, concerned about the decline of her son’s health and his increasingly aggressive behavior, Lewis-McClellan successfully filed an emergency motion in Clark County Family Court for a change of custody. She also sought and received a court order requiring the boy’s father, Rob Bassett, to undergo a drug test.
When Bassett tested positive for methamphetamine, she decided to have her son tested. The results? Also positive.
The story came full circle last month when the boy, now 10, testified that his father had made him use and sell methamphetamine. Bassett, who had pleaded guilty to a felony count of child abuse and neglect, received a prison sentence of one to four years.
Bassett’s son is one of many children in Clark County who have become victims of their parents’ involvement in drugs.
Sometimes they are caught in the crossfire when an angry customer or dealer comes looking for payment — or payback. Sometimes they inadvertently ingest their parents’ drugs. And sometimes they are simply left to fend for themselves when caregivers are under the influence.
“Are children being affected by the lifestyles of their parents negatively? Absolutely they are,” said Lisa Teele, supervisor of the Metropolitan Police Department’s abuse and neglect detail.
The detail handles about 1,500 cases a year, and Teele said most of them involve drugs, domestic violence or both.
Over the past three years, its investigators have seen an increase in two drug-related categories: cases in which children ingested their parents’ drugs, and cases in which parents or other caregivers were under the influence of a substance while a child was in their care.
In 2008, investigators in the abuse and neglect detail handled 10 cases involving drug ingestion by children. They handled 16 in 2009 and have handled 39 so far this year.
The number of cases involving the substance abuse of a caregiver has risen from 45 in 2008 to 93 last year.
Investigators have handled 112 such cases so far this year.
But cases involving violence are the ones that receive the most publicity, such as the Dec. 6 shooting death of 15-year-old Alexus Postorino, a sophomore at Southwest Career and Technical Academy.
Las Vegas police said the suspect in the case, Norman Belcher, was embroiled in a dispute with the teenager’s father, William, over a drug debt.
Police said Belcher broke into the Postorinos’ home at 3 a.m. intending to commit robbery and to leave no witnesses.
William Postorino, a single father who has a past conviction for drug trafficking, was at a casino at the time.
“This should be a message to parents,” Homicide Lt. Lew Roberts said Tuesday. “Sometimes there are consequences for your behavior. And sometimes those consequences have collateral damage.”
In a later interview, Roberts asked a rhetorical question: “Why would you engage in a behavior that could get not just your kid killed, but everybody in your family killed?”
He also wondered aloud, “Why wouldn’t somebody in the neighborhood turn you in?”
In the Postorino case, Roberts said, some neighbors suspected improprieties but none reported concerns to police.
Roberts said Postorino should be charged with child endangerment. Prosecutors wouldn’t comment on that possibility.
“Parents are always in this town putting their kids in harm’s way,” the lieutenant said.
One example of such behavior occurred in January 2003, when a knife attack at a Mesquite RV park left 10-year-old Brittney Bergeron paralyzed. Her 3-year-old sister, Kristyanna Cowan, was killed.
Authorities said the girls were stabbed by a pair of Utah teenagers in revenge for a bogus methamphetamine deal orchestrated by the girls’ mother, Tamara Bergeron, and her boyfriend, Robert Schmidt, whom she later married.
They had left the children alone in their mobile home and were out gambling at the time of the attack.
The couple denied involvement in a bogus drug deal, but both were convicted of child neglect and sentenced to prison.
Brittney, now an adult, was adopted in 2008 by her foster parents, Judy and Bill Himel of Las Vegas.
Last year, 9-year-old Savannah Bullins was fatally shot while she played with her younger sister in the second-floor living room of the family’s North Las Vegas apartment.
Police said the bullets were meant for the victim’s father, Willie, who was standing on his balcony.
According to a police report, Willie Bullins had been selling drugs in the neighborhood. He has not been charged in connection with the incident.
In August, 12-year-old De’Vonia Newman and her mother, Derecia, were shot during a drug-related robbery at their Las Vegas apartment. The mother died, but the girl survived.
The collateral damage to children caught up in the drug world can include sexual assault and, in at least one recent case, kidnapping for ransom.
In 2008, 6-year-old Cole Puffinburger was abducted from his Las Vegas home and held for ransom after his grandfather, Clemens Tinnemeyer, disappeared with $4 million in drug money.
The boy was released three days later, after his grandfather was arrested in California.
Several people face federal charges in connection with the kidnapping.
Lewis-McClellan counts her son among the survivors, but she has no idea what long-term effects, both physical and psychological, he will face.
“There is really no end,” she said.
Lewis-McClellan, who now lives in Las Vegas with the boy and his two younger siblings, said he has lost several adult teeth and still needs substantial, restorative dental work.
He is being treated by a psychologist and a psychiatrist. And he continues to experience pulmonary problems.
Lewis-McClellan said confronting his father in court helped the boy put some of the heartache behind him, but “I think we have a long road before we get to OK.”
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.