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Merced man spent month residing with dead uncle

POSTED February 22, 2011 11:09 p.m.

A Merced caretaker is under investigation by the Merced County Sheriff’s Department after they found the body of the man’s uncle inside the trailer the two men shared.

According to the sheriff’s department, the deceased had been kept in a room inside the trailer for about a month and was in a severe state of decomposition.

The deceased was identified as 63-year-old Adrian Lugo, according to the sheriff’s department. His caretaker, who is also his nephew, was identified as Patrick Lara, 45.

Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Tom MacKenzie said Lara had been withdrawing money from the man’s account since his death.

The sheriff’s department was first alerted to the presence of the body by relatives who flagged down a deputy Sunday afternoon in the 2000 block of Beachwood Drive in Merced. The relatives told the deputy they had found a body in the trailer that they suspected was that of Lugo. The family members later told investigators they had been having growing suspicions about Lara because he kept making excuses about why they could not come over to the home, MacKenzie said.

Lara was not at the home when the grim discovery was made. While investigators were at the scene Lara’s vehicle was spotted a few blocks away. Lara was approaching the home, which had several law enforcement vehicles parked around it, when he made an abrupt turn. A vehicle stop was performed and Lara was detained for questioning by detectives.

Lara told the detectives that his uncle fell and broke his arm on Jan. 22. He said he put his uncle in bed, but never got him medical attention and that shortly after the fall, Lugo passed away. MacKenzie said an autopsy had been completed, but a preliminary cause of death had not been issued as of Tuesday.

Investigators obtained a search warrant for the home and discovered evidence that pointed to Lara using Lugo’s ATM card to withdraw money and that he used it at least once to fund his bets at Chukchansi Casino.

Lara allegedly told the detectives that he kept a swamp cooler in the back running because the smell was beginning to bother him.

MacKenzie said the room where Lugo was found was covered with mold and that a leak from the swamp cooler had caused part of the ceiling to collapse on the man.

Lara said he was trying to save up enough money to leave the home and planned on calling the death in after he had left.

Lara was booked into the Merced County Jail on charges of involuntary manslaughter, elder/dependant abuse, and theft by a caretaker with elder abuse. He remains in custody in lieu of a $175,000 bail.

The investigation is ongoing and additional charges are still possible.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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