By Dan Hust
SWAN LAKE Paula Liblick will never see the adoption of a proposed New York State law named after her, but brother Bill intends on ensuring “Paula’s Law” makes it to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk.
“I’m going to work 24 hours a day to get this bill passed,” he vowed just hours after his beloved 62-year-old sister unexpectedly passed away at a downstate hospital, where she had been found unconscious at her bedside for at least 30 minutes.
Bill, a Swan Lake resident best known for his weekly “Mouth That Roars” column in the Democrat, spent his entire life caring for the severely functionally disabled Paula and is reeling from her death Tuesday night.
“I was at her side for the last three months,” he recalled on Wednesday, his voice breaking with near-sobs.
“She brought nothing but love and joy to everyone who knew her,” he said. “She was the sweetest, most innocent and loving soul anyone could meet.”
But someone not so innocent entered her group home in Orange County in 2009 and brutally raped Paula. Due to the lack of witnesses and video cameras, police remain uncertain who committed the heinous crime.
The act and its lack of resolution devastated Bill, who believes staff at the group home didn’t react swiftly or definitively enough, instead trying to cover up the matter. (Five employees reportedly lost their jobs as a result.)
Unwilling to have Paula relive her difficult days at Letchworth Village in Haverstraw (where she had been filmed as part of Geraldo Rivera’s famous 1972 exposé of Willowbrook), Bill demanded the state install video cameras at the entrances to the group home and day program after the rape occurred.
The battle he endured to achieve that seemingly simple goal convinced him that the statewide need for cameras at group homes and institutions for the disabled had to have accompanying statewide support.
Having heard similar horror stories, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther agreed to aid Bill and introduced “Paula’s Law” (A07128) earlier this year in the NYS Assembly.
“I think providing that protection is important,” explained Gunther, who admires Bill’s willingness to speak publicly about a very private, very painful situation. “... Hopefully New York State will help us ensure this most vulnerable population stays safe.”
If approved, the law would mandate video cameras to be installed and monitored at every entrance and exit to state-run facilities treating the developmentally disabled, and it already has the support of the chairman of the Assembly’s Mental Health Committee.
“We’ll push hard,” vowed Gunther, who pointed out that everything from prisons to grocery stores have cameras to protect the public. “This is a bill I’m sure has bipartisan support.”
Sadly, the effort comes too late for Paula, who died just hours after doctors determined that her recently declining health had resulted from a parasite likely given to her by the rapist.
Yet the deep love Bill still has for her won’t permit him to simply mourn and bury Paula.
“Our society forgets about these people,” he lamented. “But they’re innocent souls, and we can no longer look away.
“... I have to fight to protect them. That’s the mission that I have.”