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Dying Boy's Testimony Taped for Eviction Trial

March 22, 1987|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

The testimony of a terminally ill boy, who was evicted with his family from their San Dimas apartment last year, has been preserved on videotape because attorneys fear he may lapse into a coma or die before a lawsuit on the eviction reaches trial.

Chuckie Haney, a 12-year-old whose prolonged struggle against a rare genetic disease has touched the hearts of movie stars and President Reagan, recounted his family's eviction for more than two hours Monday before three attorneys, a judge, a court reporter and his parents.

The videotaped session was held in the dining room of Barry and Susan Haney's Azusa home, where the family moved last July after being evicted by the owner of the apartment complex on the grounds that they had become a "nuisance."

Attorneys for the Haneys, wanting to safeguard the boy's testimony for a later trial, decided to hold the session at home after Chuckie became exhausted and distraught during a three-hour deposition last week at their downtown Los Angeles offices.

"He's a real trouper," said Robert Barrett, one of a team of attorneys representing the Haneys. "During the first session, he began tiring and we told him we had to stop.

Wanted to Continue

"He started crying because he wanted to continue. Then he asked me if I could pick him up at 5 the next morning so he could finish."

The Haneys are suing the owner and managers of the Daisy apartment complex in San Dimas for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, wrongful eviction and violation of rights to housing for the handicapped. They are seeking $3 million in damages.

John Konwiser, the owner of the complex, and Kathryn and William Egan, the managers, have filed cross complaints against the Haneys alleging libel and assault and are seeking a total of $10 million in punitive damages. They contend that the eviction was justified because Barry Haney had physically assaulted William Egan and continually watched or photographed the Egan children.

Attorneys for Konwiser and the Egans did not return repeated phone calls.

On Monday, Pomona Superior Court Judge Peter Smith denied a motion by the Haneys for an expedited trial. The judge assured attorneys for the family that he was aware of Chuckie's degenerative disease and that a trial would be held within six months.

But Dr. David Comings, a geneticist at the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, said the boy may be dead by that time.

"There's a reasonable chance, given the course of his disease, that he might not be here in six months," said Comings, who oversees the boy's care.

Chuckie suffers from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a fatal disease that attacks the brain and nervous system, and Tourette's syndrome, a non-fatal genetic disorder characterized by bizarre sounds and movements that can isolate its victims from society. The chances that a person would contract both diseases is less than "one in millions," according to Comings.

Leads to Coma, Death

ALD erodes sight, hearing and coordination before it destroys portions of the brain and leads to coma and death. Comings said recent scans of Chuckie's brain reveal progressive damage.

The Haneys believe that Chuckie's diseases, and misunderstanding surrounding them, were a factor in their eviction. Barry Haney, a truck driver for Jerseymaid Milk, denies that he assaulted William Egan or took repeated photographs of his children.

Their complaint alleges that the Egans intimidated Chuckie and the Haneys' two young daughters with threats and obscene language. It charges that the eviction was unjustified and violated Chuckie's right to equal access to housing.

"From the investigation we've conducted so far, we've concluded that a terrible wrong has been committed against the Haneys," said Malcolm Wheeler, the attorney heading the case.

Wheeler has represented Howard Hughes and the Ford Motor Co. in the Pinto trials and has served as chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on the Abscam case. He and the other attorneys are donating their time.

"This is a family that has gone through a lot of adversity and has stayed together by a lot of love and warmth," he said.

The Haneys moved to Southern California from Chicago two years ago to be the near the City of Hope and Dr. Comings, an expert in the field of ALD and Tourette's syndrome. Barry Haney had slept in the back of a truck for two months before getting a job and relocating his family here.

Stories about Chuckie's plight and his dreams of being a police officer have been carried by news services. He has been made an honorary member of the police departments in several cities, including San Francisco and Monterey Park.

President Reagan has written him twice and named him an honorary member of the Secret Service. News of the family's eviction prompted a flood of calls from attorneys wanting to help with the case. Actor Michael Landon gave the family a check for $2,000.

At times, Chuckie, who is kept alive by a handful of pills each day, seems oblivious to all the attention. He stared into space when asked how it felt to be videotaped.

"I was scared," he said.

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