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What you need to know for 11/19/2017

Schenectady burn victim's wife there for both son and husband

Schenectady burn victim's wife there for both son and husband

Kevin Hawkins has been burned over 40 percent of his body - and his stepson is accused of the crime.
Schenectady burn victim's wife there for both son and husband
Latonia Hawkins of 925 Bridge Street in Schenectady talks on September 8, 2016 about her husband Kevin Hawkins, who was severely burned by her son Andrell J. Leppanen, 29.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Kevin Hawkins is stable now, his wife Latonia Hawkins said.

He opens his eyes. He responds to her. He tries to talk, but the breathing tube prevents it. He gets agitated, too. She can only do her best to ensure he remains calm.

“I told him I loved him yesterday,” Latonia Hawkins said in an interview Thursday at the family’s Bridge Street home, “and a tear went down his face.”

Burned over 40 percent of his body, Kevin Hawkins has been recovering at Westchester Medical Center’s burn unit since paramedics flew him there from Schenectady on Aug. 26.

Family members have not only been coming to terms with his horrific injuries, but with how he suffered them.

Hawkins’ 29-year-old stepson, Andrell J. Leppanen, a man who his mother says has suffered in recent years from mental health problems, has been arrested on charges that accuse him of dousing his stepfather with gasoline and setting him on fire in the family’s 925 Bridge St. apartment.

Hawkins, 59, ran to a neighbor’s residence for help after the attack. His stepson fled, but police arrested him two days later.

Leppanen is being held in the Schenectady County Jail, without bail, on charges of attempted murder and first-degree assault.

Latonia Hawkins has tried to spend as much time as she can with her husband in Westchester County.

She’s also seen her son.

“I said ‘I love you. I need you to know that I love you,’” she said. “And he said, ‘I love you, too, Ma.’”

“I’m there for my husband,” she said at another point. “I’m there for my son.”

Latonia Hawkins came home last week from Westchester County to ensure family affairs are in order. She was planning to return to her husband soon, she said.

Leppanen, she said, once served as a licensed practical nurse. In recent years, though, he began acting and talking irrationally. He was twice arrested on assault charges.

He has a long list of diagnoses, his mother said. Among them are bipolar disorder and, more recently, schizophrenia.

Though Kevin Hawkins is Leppanen’s stepfather, Latonia Hawkins said he helped raise his stepson from the age of 2. Kevin Hawkins is the owner of Keys World, a store selling clothing and other items on Albany Street.

He’s known to patrons and others simply as “Uncle Kev,” a good-natured and caring man who helps others. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with expenses, including ensuring his wife can be with him as much as possible during his recovery.

In the weeks leading up to the Aug. 26 incident, Latonia Hawkins recalled her son having difficulties, both with his medication and with his mood.

He agreed to check himself in to Ellis Hospital Aug. 10, his mother said. He’d been displaying aggression. He stayed two days. A second visit the next Saturday ended hours later, when Leppanen signed himself out, Latonia Hawkins said. He couldn’t be held against his will, she said, and she was frustrated that more couldn’t be done.

At home, she said she tried to ensure her son took his medication.

“I tried to get him help,” she said, “I tried.”

State records show Leppanen was first licensed as an LPN 10 years ago, in September of 2006. His original license date fell just short of his 20th birthday. He worked in different settings until his 2014 Albany County assault arrest, his mother said.

He eventually pleaded guilty in the assault cases in Albany County Court and received five years of probation, court records show.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said Friday the plea and probation took into account Leppanen’s mental health issues and the probation, which Leppanen was still under, was to allow for mental health monitoring.

The January 2015 plea also led to the formal suspension of his LPN license, state records show. His mother said Leppanen held out hope until recent months of working to lift the suspension. But doctors deemed him unable to work last month.

According to the charging paperwork filed against Leppanen, just after 9 a.m. Aug. 26 inside the apartment where Leppanen lived with his parents, he “intentionally threw gasoline on the victim and lit him on fire.”

Flown to Westchester, Kevin Hawkins is expected to undergo another skin graft surgery this coming week. The burns touched his neck, chest, arms, back and elsewhere, amounting to 40 percent of his body. Recovery is expected to take time.

Once he can breathe on his own, she hopes he’ll be able to communicate better. She hopes he’ll be able to fully do that soon.

“I can’t imagine what he’s feeling,” Latonia Hawkins said of her husband as she got emotional, “how he’s feeling.”

If convicted of the charges currently filed against him, Leppanen would face up to 25 years in state prison. A grand jury has at least partially acted in the case. An indictment with the final charges has yet to be handed up.

Schenectady County Public Defender Stephen Signore is representing Leppanen currently. He said Friday he has ordered Leppanen’s medical history and he expects Leppanen’s mental health to be an issue in Leppanen’s defense.

Once an indictment is handed up, Signore said he intends to make a motion for a competency hearing to determine whether Leppanen is fit to stand trial. If he is not, he would be held in a secure facility until he is fit.

Absent that, Signore said he would expect Leppanen’s mental health to be an issue going forward, including at trial. If such a not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect defense is offered and successful, that would also lead to a secure mental health facility.

The listed prosecutor in the case could not be reached for comment Friday.

Latonia Hawkins said she hopes her son gets the help that he needs, but she doesn’t believe jail is the place for that.

“I understand he has to deal with the consequences, but I don’t think jail is it,” she said. “I think he needs to be in a facility where there are people who really know how to deal with this. This is really bigger than what I thought.”

Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, scook@dailygazette.net or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.

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