Crime & Courts
Many questions remain after mom-daughter suicide pact
TAMPA - A woman who deputies said entered into a suicide pact with her 12-year-old daughter over the weekend was found in contempt of court last week for failing to turn the child over to her ex-husband, according to lawyers for the ex. Deputies said over the weekend that the mother and daughter agreed to kill themselves in a fire because they were distraught over abuse from the girl’s father. Prosecutors on Tuesday, though, said the girl changed her story about seeing her father beat her mother. Exactly what happened between Nancy Lowe, James Clark and their daughter, Allison Clark, remained under investigation Tuesday as more facts surfaced that called into question the account of the events leading up to the fire at Lowe’s home.Court documents filed in connection with the couple’s divorce and child custody dispute indicate both Clark and Lowe have a history of attempted suicide, that Clark has been accused of domestic violence multiple times by two ex-wives, and that Lowe has filed unsubstantiated reports of domestic violence. Lowe was described in the divorce order as an alcoholic with emotional problems; Clark had been accused of being an alcoholic who also abused drugs. On Thursday, two days before the fire, a family court judge held Lowe in contempt for withholding visitation and ordered make-up visitation, according to Clark’s lawyer in the custody case, Lisa Karges. On Friday, Clark, who lives in New Port Richey, filed a report with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office stating he had been awarded custody and that he had allowed the girl to go with her mother to her mother’s house to retrieve her belongings, according to the sheriff’s report. Clark said his ex-wife sent him a text agreeing to meet at a Hillsborough Sheriff’s substation but never showed up. After failing to reach his daughter on their cell phones, he said, he filed the report. The next day, neighbors pulled Lowe, 52, and Allison from flames enveloping their garage. Deputies said they found several suicide letters inside the house. The mother and daughter were treated for minor smoke inhalation and burns and then taken into custody under Florida's Baker Act, which allows involuntary commitment for 72 hours for individuals believed to be a risk to themselves. After the fire, Lowe and her daughter reported that Clark, 45, of Port Richey, broke into the house at 6603 Timber Brook Court in the Citrus Park area, on Thursday, the day of the contempt hearing. Deputies said over the weekend that Clark beat Lowe with his fists and a metal lamp. The mother and daughter reportedly tried to kill themselves in reaction to that abuse. But Allison Clark later recanted her claims of seeing her father beat her mother and told deputies she was with her father that day and he hadn’t been near her mother, Assistant State Attorney Danny Goldstein told Circuit Judge Walter Heinrich on Tuesday. James Clark’s lawyer, Anthony B. Rickman, told the judge he provided the prosecution with receipts proving his client was in New Port Richey the entire day. Heinrich ordered James Clark released on $15,000 with orders that he have no contact with his ex wife or his daughter “until they can sort out whether she's being coerced into changing her story.” Rickman said Lowe has a history of fabricating domestic violence allegations, going so far at one point as to tie herself to a bed to make it look like a boyfriend had abused her. Attorney Lisa Karges, who represents Clark in the custody case, issued a statement saying, “A major court victory was won last Thursday which resulted in Ms. Lowe being held in contempt of court for wrongfully withholding the child from her father and Mr. Clark being awarded make-up visitation.” The couple married in June 2000; Clark filed his petition for divorce on Oct. 22, 2010, according to court records. The couple were divorced in March 2012. Lowe stated during a court hearing that she believed her daughter should never see her father, according to the marriage dissolution order. A social service investigator concluded that Clark would be more likely than Lowe to honor the schedule for sharing the child’s time and be reasonable when changes were required. Lowe “filed a false police report in which she fabricated a sexual assault and admitted to being a recovering alcoholic with emotional problems,” the order states. Lowe was described as the primary caregiver for the child since the separation. Clark described Lowe as an excellent mother, according to the order. Clark testified in a 2011 hearing that Lowe, his second wife, had kept him from seeing his daughter for ten months, according to a transcript of the hearing. He admitted he was prosecuted four times in Pinellas County for violating domestic violence injunctions from his wife from the previous marriage. He said Lowe also had him arrested four times on domestic violence allegations. Clark said Lowe’s domestic violence accusations were lies. He said he attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings but only to placate his wife. He denied being an alcoholic. Lowe testified that when Clark was visiting the child in July 2010, he became enraged and extremely violent. When Clark was reading Allison a book, “She wanted to go back one page and look at a picture, and he repeatedly punched her on top of her head with a closed fist and informed her that he was going to kill her,” Lowe testified. She said she asked him to leave. “He said words that I cannot repeat in the courtroom, trashed the house, threw chairs around and finally left.” Clark denied using drugs and offered to take any kind of test the court required. While Clark testified he called several times a week in unsuccessful efforts to talk to his daughter, Lowe said he called only a couple of times, “and then it was crazy. Then he would call me from the causeway telling me he was suicidal, guzzling down a bottle of tequila.” Following the hearing, Judge Cheryl Thomas ordered supervised visitation. But subsequent attempts were derailed when the girl told social workers she didn’t want to see her father because he had threatened to kill her in the past, according to a letter to the court by the Children’s Justice Center. Clark brought flowers and candy to the appointments, which Allison accepted from social workers, but the child repeatedly refused to see her father.
News Channel 8 reporter Lauren Mayk and Tampa Tribune reporter Keith Morelli contributed to this report.