Heather Lerch left South Carolina with her 10-month-old son late last summer.
The boy’s father, Nick Greene, doesn’t know why she abandoned him. To this day, he has not heard from her — and he will never see his son again.
On the night of Feb. 26, Patrick Nicholas Lerch, 17 months old, spent his final hours in a suspected meth house on St. Leger Avenue in the Goodyear Heights neighborhood of Akron. His death has been listed as a “suspected homicide.”
Greene learned of his son’s death the next day — not from Lerch, but from a close friend in Akron who heard the news.
“My reaction was the same as any father’s would be in that predicament. I was devastated. I still am,” Greene said in a phone interview from his grandmother’s home in South Carolina.
“It’s one of those things that kind of feels like a dream, like I’m going to wake up tomorrow and this is all going to be some crazy nightmare.”
Greene said he never knew about the St. Leger living arrangements. Lerch never called him, and still hasn’t since being jailed.
“Once she was in Ohio,” Greene said, “I never heard from her again. None of us really knew where she was. All we were really sure of was she was in Ohio.”
Greene and Lerch met while attending Springfield High School in 2007. He said their relationship not only bounced back and forth between Ohio and South Carolina over the past five years, but also followed a similarly chaotic path emotionally.
“We had one of those relationships where she loves me one day and hates me the next. Honestly, I don’t know why,” he said.
In June 2010, in the middle of her pregnancy, Lerch moved to Hampton, S.C., to live with her father and stepmother. Patrick was born there on Sept. 10.
In the months before the baby came, Greene decided to leave Ohio and look for a job in South Carolina so he could be near Lerch and his baby. He moved in with his grandmother, Betty Caskey, and her husband of 27 years in the old logging town of Varnville in the so-called “Lowcountry” about two miles from Hampton.
Caskey was particularly critical of Lerch’s behavior. She said Lerch loved her grandson one day, then got mad at him the next.
“She just really didn’t know how to act in a relationship. I don’t know, I guess she thought it was more important to go get her nails done for $30, or get a hairdo for $60 for a wedding,” Caskey said.
“I know young girls are flighty, but she didn’t have her priorities in order. And Patrick was not a priority.”
In the early months of Patrick’s life, Caskey said, she had the child practically every day, baby-sitting for Lerch.
“We loved that little boy with everything in us,” Caskey said.
She had “very little direction at home” and, therefore, little direction in her own life, Caskey said. She pointed out that Lerch never graduated from Springfield High.
“She went to Job Corps in Cleveland, she went to Life Skills in Akron, she went to another school down here and quit ’em all,” Caskey said. “That’s what I mean about her priorities. She don’t have ’em.”
Greene and Lerch parted ways, for good, late last August.
“She really didn’t say much to me,” Greene said. “The most she told me was that her and her current boyfriend at that time were breaking up.”
He said Lerch led him to believe she was going to move in with her mother and stepfather in suburban Chicago. He eventually learned from Lerch’s brother that she was in Akron.
Lerch had taken her son to a house on St. Leger Avenue the day before Valentine’s Day. She lived there — with her new boyfriend, Randy Legg; his brother, Ronald Legg; and another man, Allen Kostra — for two weeks, until police were called on a Sunday night about an unresponsive child.
Patrick was pronounced dead at an Akron hospital.
Police say they discovered a meth operation in the home. All four adults in the home remain in custody at the Summit County Jail, unable to make bond. Thus far, they are facing charges related only to drugs.
“She never made a single effort to get in touch with me, that I’m aware of,” Greene said of the past several months. “I mean, my phone stayed on constantly, hoping for a call saying something, you know?
“She always said she missed her friends in Ohio, but I never foresaw any of it. It was just kind of a shock to my system when she left, and now this.”
Kimberly Clark, a licensed practical nurse from Barberton who learned of Patrick’s death in news accounts the following day, feared something terrible would happen after witnessing Lerch’s erratic ways.
She said she and her husband — a relative of Lerch’s mother — crossed paths with the young mother at a local restaurant in December. She learned that Lerch’s living arrangements since August had failed — first with a friend who threw her out, then with grandparents.
“Her grandmother and grandfather drove her to [a North Prospect Street shelter] and dropped her off,” Clark said. “They said she didn’t want to follow the rules of living in their house, so they wanted her to learn the hard way.”
Clark said she and her husband took Lerch and Patrick into their home because they felt sorry for her with the holidays approaching.
Lerch began seeing Randy Legg at the home on St. Leger about a week before Christmas, Clark said.
“She ended up spending the night there, and I yelled at her because we didn’t know where she was and we had the baby,” Clark said.
Several weeks later, things got worse.
On Jan. 19, Clark recalled, Lerch brought Randy Legg to her home so she and her husband could meet him.
“The whole time they were here,” Clark said, “they completely ignored that baby. I fed him, took care of him and put him in his pajamas for the night.”
The following morning, Lerch took Patrick with her to spend the weekend at the St. Leger home.
“When she came back on Monday morning,” Clark said, “the baby had a black eye, his little voice was hoarse, he had a bad diaper rash and that’s when I called the Barberton police on her.”
An officer came to the Clarks’ home, and when he asked Lerch why Patrick had a black eye, Lerch told him the child was playing and fell, Clark said. No police report was filed.
“The officer said: ‘Babies fall all the time; there’s nothing we can do about that,’ ’’ Clark said.
Lerch continued living with the Clarks, but on the weekend before Valentine’s Day, she announced she was going back to St. Leger.
“I told her: ‘If you take the baby over there, you’re not welcome to come back to our house because I don’t want a baby coming back here [again] in that condition.’ So she took him and left, and that’s the last time we saw him,” Clark said.
She said she called Children Services soon afterward, on Feb. 13, warning the agency that Lerch was going to live with the child in a drug house.
In the hours immediately after Patrick’s death, an investigator from the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office interviewed Lerch. He stated in a preliminary autopsy report that he observed “apparent bruising” on the child in the hospital emergency room and questioned Lerch about it.
She told the investigator Patrick “ran and fell often.”
“She stated the child had actually fallen down two to three carpeted steps the same day, resulting in a bruised face. According to Mom, this fall took place just before nap time,” the investigator wrote.
His report documented Patrick’s final hours that Sunday.
Lerch told the investigator Patrick awoke at 8:30 a.m. She fed him Cheerios, played ball with him and gave him fish sticks for lunch. She said she gave the child a bath before nap time and took a nap herself, from noon to 2 p.m., with Patrick and her boyfriend in a second-floor bedroom.
After the nap, she said, she played with Patrick, fed him fish sticks for dinner about 7:30 p.m., and watched cartoons with him.
“She further stated that no one came or went from the home all day, including her boyfriend’s mother, stepfather and brother,” the report stated.
Lerch described Patrick as “normal and free of any complaints” before she put him in his crib about 10:30 p.m. She said she had to rock him for five to 10 minutes until he fell asleep.
“She then stated she went to check on him after 10 to 20 minutes and found he was cold to the touch,” the investigator wrote.
Lerch told the investigator CPR was started and 911 was called.
Patrick was pronounced dead at Akron Children’s Hospital within a half-hour.
Brian M. Pierce, Lerch’s lawyer, said she grieves over the loss of her son, has been cooperating with Akron police detectives in the investigation and will continue to cooperate.
“I would ask that people reserve judgment until all the facts are in,” Pierce said. “Her No. 1 priority is to get to the bottom of this and find out what happened to her son.”
Caskey said there was a memorial service March 10 for her grandson in South Carolina.
“It was really heart warming,” she said. “So many people loved that little guy.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or email@example.com.