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On a warm Monday morning three months ago, a body of a young girl was spotted by a railroad employee, wedged near a dam in a dark corner where Clear Creek bends around downtown Shelbyville.
Jackleen Lane, 15, had been floating there for several days, apparently unseen and not missed since she walked away from the Shelby County Fair and found her way into the cool water about two miles away. Her body showed no signs of foul play, and an autopsy would determine there were no drugs in her system. Her death was ruled accidental drowning.
By all accounts she was well-liked and much-loved, but her 15 years are littered with criminal issues and family problems that left hers a troubled walk along life’s path, a path that ended with a spoiled life in the spoiled waters of Clear Creek.
In those 90 days since her body was found, we have come to learn more about Jackleen Lane and the life she led except for one very key point: We don’t know how she found her way into that creek.
“We have investigated this case from every angle, and unless somebody just jumps out with something new, well...,” Shelbyville Police Chief Danny Goodwin said. “The thing is, nobody’s ever going to be happy with this [investigation] because a fifteen-year-old girl is dead and everybody is wondering who’s to blame.”
In interviews with family members, friends, public employees and educators and from piles of court records, that question emerges again and again in the details of Jackleen Lane’s life.
There was foremost the broken family that sent her to live with her older brother and his family in Bagdad. There were issues at school, skirmishes with drugs and early life romances.
We know that on the night she died, she left the fairgrounds and was walking through Shelbyville. She might have been talking to her boyfriend on the phone. She might have encountered another friend along the way. She likely ended up at the bridge on Main Street, where it crosses the creek, just upstream from where her body was spotted near 1st and Goodman streets by a conductor on a passing Norfolk Southern Railroad train.
The rest remains a mystery.
‘We sure miss her’
Jackleen Lane exists today as a sweet, young face, smiling from a pink picture frame, a tiny sapling of a pine tree, planted with loving care and as the lost daughter of a family devastated by grief and loss.
Petite, with long brown hair, lively dark eyes and an engaging smile, she had won the hearts of everyone in the big, white, frame house on Hotel Street in Bagdad, where she lived with her half-brother, Joshua, his dad, Andy Snider, his grandfather, Jake Snider and his grandfather’s wife, Rayetta. Theirs was a home of apparent love.
Jake Snider smiled sadly, clutching a photo of Lane encased in a pink-and-white frame. “See this picture?” he asked. “I brought it out here to show it to you, but I’ve got to take right back to Rayetta, because she keeps it right beside her bed all the time.”
“She had her own room, but she’d go to Rayetta’s room all the time, and they’d snuggle up together and giggle and carry on, talking about girl things,” he said. “We sure miss her around here.”
Joshua Lane knelt beside the small pine tree in his front yard and straightened some rocks that he had arranged in a border around it. “This is her tree,” he said with a catch in his voice. “It was give to me at her funeral, and I planted it here so I can watch it grow.”
How Lane came to live in her brother’s care also is a bit of a mystery. She was removed from the custody of her mother, Pauline “Lottie” Likes, after missing school at the Education Center at Cropper, a facility at which students who struggle in normal school life get help in finding a toehold.
Her father, Paul Price, apparently has had little role in her life and declined to speak to a reporter who went to his house.
Questions also remain because the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has declined to release documents about its role in Lane’s life. The Sentinel-News, which had requested those records, has appealed that decision with the office of Attorney General Jack Conway, citing previous court rulings and the fact that Lane is deceased under neglectful circumstances. That ruling is pending.
But for the past year and a half Lane has lived under the supervision of Joshua Lane, 27, who her mother said was awarded permanent custody by the courts.
Lane had been living with her maternal grandmother, Nora True Lane, but when she passed away from cancer in 2012, Lane returned to live with her mother.
The courts intervened and removed her from custody of Pauline Likes at least partially because of attendance issues at school, which embroiled Likes in truancy charges for which she was convicted and fined. She lost custody within a few months.
Likes said she had not been aware that her daughter had missed 36 days of school because she would send her to school at the Education Center at Cropper, where she was in the seventh grade, and then her daughter would skip school with her friends. However, Likes pleaded guilty of failure to send a child to school before Judge David S. Hayes in spring 2012.
“I gave my son permanent custody of my daughter,” Likes said.
Court records show that Likes was ordered in December 2012 to pay child support in the amount of $207 per month to her son, because her daughter was in his care.
Steven Coleman, principal at Cropper, said he did not wish to speak of Lane’s attendance issue, but he did want to remark on her character.
“She was a kid who always had a smile on her face, and it always brightened your day,” he said. “Even though she had some difficulty in her life, she always seemed to find the positives, and she always seemed to make your day better.
“Jackleen always gave us a good effort, and she had some days where we had to work with her, but for the most part, the majority of her days were very positive. If you understood anything about her circumstances, you appreciated what she got accomplished.”
Said Likes: “You’ve got to understand something about my daughter. She loses her mother and her grandmother all in the same year.”
Likes said that even though she lost custody of her daughter, she did not neglect or abuse her.
“If you’re going to print something about my daughter, and you’re going to put something in there about me, put in there how much I loved my daughter, and how much I miss my daughter,” she said. “I’m a grieving mother of a fifteen-year-old child. I’ve been through enough the last year or so over this; I’ve been through enough.”
It is not known how many times Likes, 40, has been married or even if she in fact was married to Price. The only marriage recorded for her in Shelby County was her marriage to John Likes at the Simpsonville Fire Station on Nov. 19, 1996. The marriage ended August 1997. Jackleen Lane, given her mother’s maiden name, was born on Jan. 26, 1998.
Lottie Likes also has a criminal history, consisting of several misdemeanor charges – mostly traffic – from 2003 to 2011, although she was found guilty of disorderly conduct in May 2011.
Family members have been reluctant to discuss Jacklene’s history with her mother, although Jake Snider said that the reason that Paul Price was listed as Lane’s father in her obituary is that in her early years, before she went to live with her grandmother, he helped Likes raise her and treated her like a daughter.
Joshua Lane said he did not hesitate to step up and take care of his sister.
“She got in a little trouble at school and stuff, and my mom wasn’t in a very good situation, and I got a steady place here, and she didn’t have to worry about nothing; she was took care of good,” he said.
Joshua Lane himself has had a troubled past, being found guilty of numerous criminal charges dating back to 2005; a mixed bag of seven misdemeanors and one felony, three of them substance abuse-related charges, including DUIs in 2005 and 2008 and a public intoxication in 2006, all in Oldham County.
The felony charge was for trafficking in marijuana, for which he was sentenced to 12 months in jail and 100 hours of community service and ordered to undergo substance-abuse counseling. But his substance-abuse problems have continued. He has two substance abuse-related cases pending in Shelby County, incurring public intoxication and disorderly conduct charges on June 30 and Sept. 5.
Joshua Lane admitted to being “out of control” since his sister’s death and said his grandmother’s death hit both him and his sister hard, because they were so close to her.
“My grandmother raised me, and Jackleen was born, and mammaw was raising her, and then she got real sick with cancer and passed away,” he said. “It kinda took its toll on her [Jackleen]; she [grandmother] was just like our mother.
“I’ve been trying to get myself together, but it’s hard, because I don’t know what happened to her, you know. I’d always been there for her; whenever she needed anything, I was there. I was always there to rescue her, no matter what. But I couldn’t be there then, when she needed me most.”
Joshua Lane described his sister as her school principal had, as being free-spirited and happy, always with a smile on her face. He said they were always close and that he used to take her fishing.
“She was always cutting up; she loved to dance. From the time she was out of diapers and could walk, she was right on my blue jeans, everywhere I went, right up to the day she died,” he said.
Lane said he tried to provide a stable home for his sister, stepping up at a time in her life when she needed a positive influence, making sure she attended school regularly and encouraging her to acquire responsible habits, such as getting a part-time job, working in tobacco to earn some spending money.
“She was doing good; she never missed a day of school from the time I got her until she passed away,” he said.
He said he also tried to make sure she was not becoming overly involved in a new romance in her life. Jackleen Lane had been seeing Ricardo Ramos of Louisville for more than a year.
Lane said because she was still so young, he permitted Ramos to spend some time with his sister but not as much as she wanted.
“When mom had [custody of] her, they [Lane and Ramos] got to spend entirely too much time together; I put a stop to it,” he said. “I let him come out here some, but I finally got her to understand, there’s a time in your life when that’s appropriate, and now is not the time. I told her, ‘You need to concentrate on going to school and stuff like that and just be a kid.’”
But Jackleen Lane clearly considered this a serious relationship. On her Facebook page she used Ramos as her last name and referred to him in very loving messages.
Ramos, 17, said he, too, is having a difficult time trying to get on with his life, because he said he was very serious about Jackleen as well.
“It’s just going to be hard for me to move past this,” he said. ”A lot of people, like, they’re already having fun doing whatever, and they keep asking me, and I just tell them, it’s not time for me to have fun right now.”
Ramos said he has had his share of criminal troubles but that he has been doing better for quite some time.
“I’ve been in and out of placement, because I have a past history,” he said. “I have my GED now.”
Ramos said that he and Lane liked to do simple things together.
“We would just have a good time, and go catch snapping turtles, snakes and frogs and stuff,” he said, echoing her brother’s statement that she liked to spend a lot of time outdoors.
Ironically, outdoors is where she spent her last moments.
Joshua Lane said that trying to imagine his sister’s last moments of life tortures him, because he can’t figure out how she could have drowned.
“She could swim like a fish,” he said.
Goodwin said that police think that Lane fell into the water where the bridge over U.S. 60 crosses Clear Creek, just west of Governors Square.
“I would say her entry point was there at the bridge on U.S. 60, but the takeout point was at the dam,” he said. “I can’t say for sure, [that’s where she fell in], but I can tell you that’s the last place she was seen. The current goes that way [toward the dam], so that’s where she stopped drifting, right there up against the dam is where she got stuck.”
Shelbyville Assistant Fire Chief Chris Spaulding, heading up a crew of 13, retrieved Lane’s fully clothed body from the creek on June 17 and said the water there was deeper than 6 feet.
Shelbyville Police officer Kelly Cable had said early on in the investigation that it was puzzling to detectives how she could have ended up drowning, especially after there were no wounds or injuries visible on her body that might indicate how she would have been incapacitated.
Medical examiners closed their case on Lane quickly, establishing drowning as the cause of death and with toxicology results showing that she had not ingested any drugs at the time of her death.
Shelby County Coroner Jeff Ivers said that the tests could not determine if Lane had been drinking, because her body had been in the creek too long to determine that.
“Tests for alcohol were inconclusive because her body was in the water for approximately three days before she was found,” he said.
“It [toxicological report] showed she had no drugs in her system; we could not do anything about alcohol because her body was in decomp mode and would give an inadequate reading.”
Goodwin said detectives are preparing to wrap up their investigation officially.
“We hope to close the case by the end of the week,” he said. “Anytime you’re dealing with a juvenile, you have to make sure you’ve flipped every rock you can flip. I know it seems like an excessively long time, but we are talking about a death, and it’s not unusual for a death [case] to stay open for years.”
‘Miss her like crazy’
Closure may come slowly for her family and friends, who are still trying to come to terms with how she died and struggling both to keep their memories of her intact, while blotting out the horror.
Ramos said that he had been concerned for a while about Lane’s preference of walking by herself, something that he said she was doing the last time he talked to her, close to the time police think she would have fallen into the creek.
Ramos said he was talking by cell phone to Lane, but he wasn’t sure whether it was Thursday (June 13) or Friday, June 14, the day she apparently died. He said she told him she was walking from 10th Street, and that she was sick and was dizzy and throwing up.
“She got close to the bridge, and everything, and before she passed there, she stopped by some friend who was walking around, and he talked to me, and I asked him, was she OK? Was she drinking? Did she look dizzy? And he said, ‘She’s OK.’”
Ramos said that Lane did have substance abuse problems, but that she had been doing better lately. He said he doesn’t know what to believe regarding her death.
“People keep saying that somebody pushed her, but me, my personal self, I don’t believe what people are saying,” he said. “But I don’t really know. Really nobody knows.”
Joshua Lane said his sister “went through a little spell when she tried to smoke some pot,” but that she basically did not do drugs.
“When the toxicology came back, she was clean,” he said.
When Lane died, he said, it was summer break, so he had permitted her to spend a couple of days with a friend, he said.
“She wanted to go to the fair, and I gave her some money to go to the fair,” he said.
“I took her and dropped her off with an adult and was supposed to pick her up at the same place, but when I went to get her, I couldn’t find anybody,” he said. “And they had already found her body.”
He paused, swallowing back tears. “She just had to grow up too fast,” he said. “I tried to bring her back to being a kid, but…
“I tried my best, I really did. Now I just miss her like crazy.”