Photo: Catherine Ann Vandermaesen
Ventura County – Proving that crimes of neglect can be just as depraved and harmful as those of violence, evidence leading to the March 14th arrest of 70-year-old Ojai resident Catherine Ann Vandermaesen is the stuff of Hollywood horror movies.
According to Ventura County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Detective Joseph Preciado, on March 13th Ventura County Adult Protective Services called for a law enforcement “welfare check” on a residence where elder abuse was suspected.
When deputies responded to the Ojai home, they were rebuffed by Vandermaesen and her 74-year-old sister and were denied entry into the home as the women “insisted all occupants at the location were fine.” Deputies inquired as to the well-being of the women’s 94-year-old father, known to be living at the residence. Refusing to allow deputies access to the interior of the home, the sisters offered to “bring him out in a wheelchair.”
Suspecting possible violations involving elder abuse, animal abuse, living conditions, housing code compliance and environmental issues, the following day deputies returned in the company of personnel attached to Ventura County Adult Protection Services, Ventura County Code Compliance, Ventura County Animal Control, Ventura County Adult Protection Services, City of Ojai Code Enforcement, the Humane Society of Ventura County, and Ojai Police Department detectives.
As deputies approached the home on the morning of March 14th, the odor of “ammonia associated with urine” was apparent some 20 feet away from the house. At that point, deputies gained access to the interior of the residence, whereupon “eight canines, two rabbits, one African Grey parrot, and 55 wild rats” were discovered in the main living quarters. An estimated 700 other wild rats were found to be “residing within the two bedrooms” in proximity to the sisters’ 96-year-old father.
Authorities promptly “yellow-tagged” the property as “unlivable and a danger to the occupants and animals” residing there.
Vandermaesen’s father was transported to Ojai Valley Hospital, with his legal custody assumed by Adult Protection Services. Her sister was transported to the same hospital, while Vandermaesen was taken to Ventura County Jail, where she was booked on charges of elder abuse and failure to care for animals.
Photo: Courtesy Ventura County Jail Booking