NORTH COLLINS, N.Y. (WIVB)–Ten years ago this week, February 26, 2010, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office announced the indictment of two people for the torture and murder of Laura Cummings, 23, of North Collins—Cummings’ mother and half-brother.
Cummings, who was impaired intellectually and physically, had been beaten and scalded with boiling water by her half-brother, Luke Wright. Her mother, Eva Cummings suffocated Laura with her bare hands, on January 21, 2010.
Wright is serving 40 years to life for rape, incest, and assault. Cummings was sentenced to 57 years to life for second degree murder and unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime.
Laura’s siblings have said she might have survived if certain Erie County agencies had just done their jobs, a claim which is at the heart of two wrongful death lawsuits filed against Erie County and the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, that are still pending in State Supreme Court.
Attorney Terrence Connors is representing Laura Cummings’ estate in the civil actions, Office on behalf of Laura Cummings, claiming the agencies could have saved her from years of abuse, if they had just followed their own procedures.
“There were a number of places along the way where, if the agencies had intervened properly–just done their job like they were supposed to do–it would have saved her life.”
Court documents indicate, Laura Cummings had been abused for years—going back to when she was as young as 8 years old. Erie County’s Child Protection Services (CPS) intervened on behalf of Laura and her siblings.
But later when the Cummings children grew to adulthood, and complaints of abuse were filed involving Laura, the lawsuit claims CPS failed to communicate their previous involvement to Erie County’s Adult Protective Services.
Laura Cummings’ younger brother Richard Cummings has said he was tipped off that Laura’s abuse was getting worse, so he called Erie County’s Adult Protective Services (APS) to intervene from the Air Force base in North Carolina where he was stationed.
In an interview in 2010, Cummings said, he told authorities, “You need to really investigate this because I know that there is something going on in that house, and they just would not do anything. They said they needed a warrant to go inside the house and do anything.”
Cummings also shared his concerns with North Collins Town Justice John Stevens, who also contacted APS, “He said that his sister had marks on her, a cut on her arm, and he believed she was being abused.”
Adult Protective Services would later report a caseworker went to the home, and ruled the reports “unfounded,” although the lawsuit against Erie County raises serious doubt the caseworker got past the front door.
Altogether, Erie County APS caseworkers concluded on three occasions, July, September, and December in 2009, reports of Laura Cummings abuse were unfounded.
APS officials have said previously, if a caseworker is refused entrance, they would need a court order or someone from law enforcement to get past the front door, despite Child Protection Services prior intervention with the Cummings.
Connors said Erie County had a duty to protect Laura Cummings because of her impairments, and getting into the Sherman Avenue apartment was a matter of life or death.
“Get in and see her, speak to her, and observe what she was going through. Our position is, that was not done properly.”
After Stevens’ attempts to get Laura removed from the apartment failed, his worst fears were realized when Cummings and Wright came before him following their arrests for Cummings murder.
A veteran of 25 years as a judge, Stevens reflected on that moment, “I have arraigned three murders out here, and this was the most shocking and the toughest one, and you always think about it.”
News 4 contacted the Erie County Sheriff’s Office about the pending litigation and a spokesman referred us to the Erie County Attorney.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s Press Secretary Peter Anderson issued a statement, pointing out the Cummings tragedy unfolded before Poloncarz took office.
“Departmental changes, including moving Adult Protective Services from Senior Services back to Social Services have happened since then.”
Anderson added, “Erie County continues to take seriously the safety and well-being of not only adults but all residents needing services.”
The wrongful death lawsuits are tentatively set to go to trial in late spring or early summer of this year.