- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 1999

Neighbors and associates of a powerful Philadelphia-area couple are at a loss to explain what drove the wealthy pair to leave their severely disabled 10-year-old son at a Delaware hospital the day after Christmas.

Richard W. Kelso, 62, and his wife, Dawn, 45, turned themselves in to police arriving in matching BMWs and spent Monday night in jail. They were arraigned Tuesday in Delaware on misdemeanor counts of child abandonment and conspiracy. Each charge carries up to a year in jail and a $2,300 fine.

Mr. Kelso is president and chief executive of international chemical giant PQ Corp., a $500 million-a-year company. Mrs. Kelso is a member of a Pennsylvania state advisory council on disability issues.

Their son, Steven, has cerebral palsy, breathes through a tube and uses a wheelchair.

"It's a sad situation. I really feel sorry for the little guy," said Pat Mastricola, who lives in the same cul-de-sac as the Kelsos. "I wish we had known they needed help."

Business associate Betty McAdams said: "The only thing I can think of is that it is very difficult to care for a severely disabled child and be the president and CEO of a major company. Maybe someone snapped."

New Castle County, Del., police said Mrs. Kelso wheeled her son into Alfred I. duPont hospital in Wilmington on Sunday morning and left him at the front desk. She "deposited all of her son's belongings, packed in boxes, in the lobby," the department said in a statement.

Mrs. Kelso asked the desk clerk to have her son admitted, and when the staffer left to find a qualified nurse, Mrs. Kelso left the hospital. Mr. Kelso accompanied his wife. The couple also left a note saying they could not care for the boy.

They offered no explanation during arraignment in Delaware. The Kelsos were released on bond.

Steven suffers from cerebral palsy and has required a respirator for most of his life, said Glover Crouch, an uncle of Mrs. Kelso.

He said the couple had been left without nursing help over Christmas, sleeping in shifts to handle his round-the-clock needs. He described them as loving, not neglectful, parents.

"You're talking about a youngster who is rather severely disabled," said Dr. Charles McNelly of the local United Cerebral Palsy branch, a national advocacy organization. "It can be very trying."

Dr. McNelly said families of children with cerebral palsy can suffer "fiscal, psychological and social burdens."

"Especially at the holiday times, the burden becomes greater," he said.

Cerebral palsy is characterized by an inability to fully control motor function, particularly muscle control and coordination, according to United Cerebral Palsy. The disability can cause seizures, hearing impairment and mental retardation.

The Department of Children, Youth and Families in Chester County, Pa., assigned a social worker to help the Delaware Department of Family services find the boy a foster home. Placing him with relatives is also an option, said Trosh Hearn, a spokeswoman for the Delaware agency.

No one answered the door today at the Kelsos' home in Exton, Pa., a middle-class community about 25 miles outside Philadelphia.

Ms. Mastricola said the only contact she has had with the family is with Steven, who arrived at her house this year to trick-or-treat.

"Just a nice little kid," she said. "He was in his wheelchair and he had a little button on it that said, 'Trick-or-treat. Candy please.' "

Ms. Mastricola believes Steven's condition may prevent him from speaking, an effect of cerebral palsy.

The neighbor saw what she thought were health care workers arriving at the house day and night to help the family. Puzzled residents in the neighborhood would gladly have lent a hand if they knew they were needed, she said.

Mr. Kelso was at work yesterday but would not comment on the advice of his attorneys, said John M. Reed, spokesman for the Berwyn, Pa.-based PQ Corp.

At PQ Corp., Mr. Kelso oversees 69 plants in 18 countries, with 1,600 workers worldwide. A former executive at Proctor and Gamble, he joined PQ Corp. in 1985 as corporate vice president. He took over as president and CEO in 1990.

The private company was established in 1831, and since 1861 has become one of the world's largest producers of soluble silicates a compound that forms the basis of common glass and bricks.

Since 1992, the company has nearly doubled its sales to about $500 million.

Mr. Kelso also serves on the board of directors for Greater Philadelphia First, a nonprofit association of business executives from 33 of the region's larger corporations who are "committed to advancing the interests of the community," according to the group's Web site.

A staffer said no one in the office knew Mr. Kelso on a personal basis, but said he has served on the board of directors since November 1998.

Mrs. Kelso was confirmed by the state Senate in 1995 as a member of the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, an advisory board to the Department of Public Welfare, said agency spokesman Jay Pagni.

Her four-year term expires tomorrow. The agency has programs to help fund services for children in their own homes, Mr. Pagni said.

This article is based in part on wire reports.

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