Port Vue tragedy shows need for outreach, advocates say

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About four months ago, Raymond Sobczak and a group of "old-timers" from a local firemen's association went to visit Richard "Lippy" Liposchok at his house in Port Vue.

Mr. Sobczak said his old friend seemed to be wearing thin.

"He looked down and out. Very tired," said Mr. Sobczak, 80, who knew Mr. Liposchok virtually his entire life and spent decades alongside him at the borough's volunteer fire company, Vigilant Hose Company No. 1.

His wife, Gail, had died the year before and Mr. Liposchok, 78, once a muscular steelworker who was a talented baseball player in his youth, seemed to be wasting away, Mr. Sobczak said.

With his wife gone, Mr. Liposchok has also assumed sole responsibility for the care of his son, Mickey, who required constant attention as the result of a mental disability.

"He was just about bed-ridden," Mr. Sobczak said of Mickey Liposchok, 52. "He had to feed him, change, him, wash him. It was just like taking care of a baby."

Autopsy results released Wednesday by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office confirmed that Richard Liposchok fatally shot his son before taking his own life. Their bodies were found Tuesday morning after a housekeeper couldn't get anyone to answer the door and called a neighbor.

"He's really the only who can tell us what his thought process was," said Lt. Andrew Schurman of the Allegheny County Police homicide unit. "It sounds like, from the people we talked to, he was developing health issues. We can only assume he didn't feel like he could take care of his son with his failing health. ... From what I gather, he was proud man. That might have played a role in his thought process."

Mr. Liposchok rarely talked about his son or his own declining health, several people who knew him said.

"It was pretty hard for any of us to talk to him about his son," said Mr. Sobczak, who couldn't say what was ailing his friend. "He didn't discuss it. You get to the point where you don't want to ask."

They also described a man who loved his son but was unlikely to seek outside help.

Mr. Sobczak wishes he had, however.

"You always wish that something better can happen. This wasn't the better thing," he said.

Don Clark, deputy director for Allegheny County's offices of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability, citing privacy concerns, would not say whether the Liposchoks had ever applied for or received assistance through the various programs offered by the county for those with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers.

Mr. Clark noted that the county receives about $280 million a year in funding that connects about 3,265 people a day with services that range from residential programs with 24-hour staffing to in-home care, employment programs, day facilities and respite services, among a variety of others.

At the end of October, however, there were nearly 1,300 people in Allegheny County on a waiting list for those programs, categorized according to their degree of need, Mr. Clark said. There were 261 people on the "emergency" waiting list, he added.

And despite recent initiatives that provide targeted funding to county agencies for special education students finishing school and people with intellectual disabilities under the care of aging caregivers, the demand for service is outpacing available money.

Still, the county and the state are flexible enough to accommodate emergency situations, such as if a caregiver dies suddenly.

He encouraged people caring for those with intellectual disabilities to register with the county Department of Human Services.

"They may be waiting for services but if we don't know about them, we can't plan for them," he said. "It's really important that they at least see if they're eligible."

Lisa Tesler, a policy coordinator who works in the Harrisburg office of the PA Waiting List Campaign, a statewide advocacy group, says about 14,000 people are on waiting lists in Pennsylvania for intellectual disability services and many other families may need services but not seek them.

The mother of an 18-year-old with autism, Ms. Tesler called the deaths of Mr. Liposchok and his son an "awful situation."

"I can't imagine feeling so desperate that I would have to take that kind of action," she said. "Unfortunately, it's not the first time it has happened. ... Go ask for help. Reach out, because people will step up and help you if they know that you need it."


Contact information

-- Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Office of Intellectual Disability Intake/Registration: 412-253-1250.

-- Director’s Action Line: 1-800-862-6783 to address questions about services provided by Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

-- Achieva: Nonprofit that provides residential living options and other services for people with intellectual disabilities and their families in southwestern Pennsylvania. 412-995-5000.

-- Pennsylvania 2-1-1 Southwest: A 24-hour number that connects residents of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909.

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