Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Former Colorado Springs councilman denies allegations of neglect after autistic boy is found naked

By Daniel Chacon Updated: May 17, 2013 at 5:10 pm

A notorious former Colorado Springs city councilman and his wife were cited for child neglect after Colorado Springs police say officers found their 13-year-old son naked and living in a home littered with feces.

Charles E. Wingate and his wife of 17 years, Sharon Starkey, were cited after a neighbor called police, who checked on the home in the 6100 block of Corinth Drive just after noon Thursday.

Police found the boy, described by officers as "autistic," living in what they called extremely unsanitary conditions, which included live and dead rodents in the residence.

"The boy stated he is an only child, home-schooled, and does not remember ever being outside the house. Neighbors confirmed they have not seen the boy outside in several years," police said in a news release.

Police said code enforcement condemned the house as unsafe for living.

In an interview Thursday night, Wingate said he disputed the allegations of neglect and the police description of his home.

"My son at all times has been loved and protected and cared for," Wingate said. "The fact that someone will take this situation and try to blow it into something of a, 'He was somehow abused or neglected or not taken care of,' that's a total inaccurate description of the situation."

Wingate also said the boy, his biological son, is not autistic. "I'm not going to discuss my son's medical condition. That is a very private issue with me." Neighbor Phil Cooper said he didn't know Wingate had a son because he had never seen him.

"I personally hope that he gets more than just a ticket and a slap on the wrist," Cooper said.

Cooper, who has lived in the neighborhood 13 years, said Wingate's home smelled like feces, especially in the summer. But he figured it was from a dog in the backyard.

"Now they're saying that the house was just covered in it inside," he said. "Poor 13-year-old kid."

The boy was taken to a hospital before he was handed over to the state Department of Human Services, police said.

Wingate and Starkey were not home during the investigation but were served a summons on suspicion of child neglect, police said. On her Facebook page, Starkey lists First United Methodist Church as her employer, and in online profiles says she has worked with children with disabilities for years. Church officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Police spokeswoman Barbara Miller said a neighbor called police to check on the boy. She said police have been receiving more "check the welfare" calls after three women who had been missing for years were found alive in Cleveland this month.

Wingate was elected to the council in 2001 after an unsuccessful bid in 1997. At 31, he was the city's youngest elected official, but his career quickly hit the rocks.

Less than three months into his term, it was discovered he was being sued for bouncing checks. A month later, he was investigated because pornographic websites were accessed from his city computer. It was never proven he was at the computer at the time.

In 2002, he was charged with five felonies and two misdemeanors. Police alleged he kept a $190 advance for a council trip and stole the number of a Colorado Springs Utilities credit card and ordered pizza with it. Prosecutors filed 12 more charges in May 2003, including an allegation that he pawned his city-owned computer.

In 2003, Wingate quit the council and pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement of public funds. Other charges were dropped.

He was ordered to jail in 2006, after a judge found he violated probation in the case.

Wingate then said he was late in paying court-ordered fees because he couldn't hold a job.

"I've sought employment, but you spend a year in the papers and on TV, and they know who you are," Wingate said. "It makes it hard."

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Contact Daniel ChacOn: 476-1623

Twitter @danieljchacon

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