Berwyn mom accused in son's death denies hoarding

December 14, 2011 (BERWYN, Ill.)

Price described what happened last September on the day her son, 14-year-old Matthew, died.

"There is no sorrow greater than the loss of a child," Price told ABC7.

The teenager apparently died in the family's Berwyn home that was filled with dozens of animals. The suburban mother faces several felony charges in connection with her son's death.

Price has pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty and caregiver neglect charges. In addition to the death of her son Matthew, three of her daughters are now in state custody and another adult son is staying with relatives. But Price maintains she's neither a bad mother nor a criminal.

"I don't believe that the animals actually had anything to do with Matthew's death," said Price.

Those animals, numbering more than 200, included birds, cats, dogs, and gerbils and many, officials say, were in cages with dead animals and covered in waste and cockroaches.

"Some of those animals, they should have been adopted out, and I attempted many times to have that happen, to find homes for them," said Price.

It was on a day last September that Lydia Price says she found Matthew lying in bed vomiting. He had been sick, she says, for days and so had much of the family. But all had been feeling better.

"The color drained from his face, starting at the top of his head, down, and then his head just went limp," said Price. "I ran for the phone to call 911."

"He's got stuff coming out of his nose like, he's been sick with a stomach bug like puking, but he's got stuff coming out of his nose like puke or blood or something," Price told a 911 operator. "Alright, is he conscious and breathing?" the operator responded. "No," said Price.

The medical examiner said Matthew died from pneumonia and prosecutors say before an ambulance arrived Matthew was brought outside.

"Were you trying to hide the conditions inside the home?" ABC7's Eric Horng asked Price. "Absolutely not...I had nothing to do with the fact that Matthew was brought outside," she said.

But on the 911 call, Price is heard shouting instructions to carry Matthew from the room.

911 Operator: Is he on any medications or anything?
Girl: He's not breathing!
Price: C'mon, what?
Girl: He's not breathing!
Price: I know. I think he's dead. Carry him. C'mon.
911Operator: (unintelligible)
Price: What? I'm sorry. I can't hear you.
911Operator: You're not sure if he's breathing at all?
Price: No, he's not breathing.

Price says the animals had been living in the three-bedroom bungalow for nearly a decade and were originally brought in by her husband, who she says left the family.

"I don't know if the child died because the child was just sick, or if the child died because of the animals. I've seen nothing that indicates that the child died of some animal-borne virus," said Steve Greenberg, Price's attorney.

Price denied being a hoarder on Wednesday.

"A lot of our issues had to do with poverty rather than hoarding," she told ABC7. "I really don't blame anyone. I believe that this was a tragedy."

Price is now staying with a relative, and she has been allowed to visit her children. She's due back in court Thursday and her attorney says they plan to take this case to trial. If convicted, Price faces up to five years behind bars.

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