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Cousin says man jailed for Lincoln House fire doesn't understand

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Cousin blames guardian for lack of supervision

By Bob White

 

By BOB WHITE

bwhite@thenewsenterprise.com

ELIZABETHTOWN – The man jailed on an arson charge after Friday after fire destroyed the Lincoln Heritage House does not and cannot comprehend the magnitude of the structure’s loss, family members said.

Kenneth Earl Robert Bennett, 34, was described as “disabled” in a criminal complaint Elizabethtown police filed against him after the 6 a.m. blaze destroyed the Thomas Lincoln cabin, but family members say that “disabled” identifier in the citation doesn’t fully describe Bennett’s condition.

“His mind never developed beyond that of a 12-year-old,” said Teresa Pelc, a second-cousin to Bennett. “Not to offend him, but it would be above him to do that on purpose. He doesn’t know who Abe Lincoln was.”

As did police note in their report, Pelc said Bennett confessed to her that he started the fire.

Pelc said the loss of the historic landmark is awful and part of an even sadder chapter in her cousin’s life.

“I was born and raised here in Hardin County and knowing the house is gone makes me cringe,” Pelc said. “But it needs to be explained that he doesn’t understand what’s happened. It’s the person over him who should be held responsible.”

Pelc said Bennett was raised on his great-grandmother’s farm until several years ago when the former caregiver died. Afterward, another family member took the reigns over Bennett’s life and finances, Pelc said.

“His great-grandmother took care of him – even as a grown man — until she died. She was in her 90s,” Pelc said. “If she knew what had been done to him, it’d break her heart.”

Pelc says Bennett’s more recent guardian has not taken care of him, or even monitored his well-being.

Bennett’s application for a public advocate reflects his ignorance of the amount of disability income he receives monthly.

Court documents show Bennett lived at an apartment complex on Governor’s Court in Elizabethtown.

“He’s been going to Helping Hand for food and St. James (Catholic) Church for donations,” Pelc said.

A phone number for Bennett’s guardian was listed in his application for a public advocate.

That relative was reached by phone, but would not comment on the situation other than confirming Bennett’s poor mental health.

Pelc said other family members are “outraged” to learn of what she described as a lack of supervision over Bennett. He has been in jail since his arrest last Friday.

No court orders had been issued as of Tuesday to evaluate Bennett’s mental health.

Hardin County Deputy Jailer Theresa Bailey confirmed Bennett is not being held in the general inmate population. Other medical information is not subject to open records laws.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday morning in Bennett’s criminal case.

Pelc said she expects a family member  to testify about her cousin’s mental health.

“He needs help,” she said. “It would be great if he could go to a boy’s ranch or something like that. Being raised on a farm, confinement just makes him crazy.”

Elizabethtown Police Department spokesman Virgil Willoughby said it’s unlikely Bennett’s guardian will be held accountable for his actions. That would be like holding parents responsible for the actions of their children, he said.

Bob White can be

reached at (270) 505-1750.