Joshua Tree Couple And Their Three Children Found Living In Squalor

An overmatched couple buffeted by financial circumstance, struggling to make ends meet and reduced to taking refuge on a forlorn property in Joshua Tree were arrested Wednesday after they and their three children were found living within a 20-foot by 10-foot by 4-foot high plywood hovel.
Mona Lisa Kirk, 51, and Daniel Panico, 73, were arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of willful cruelty to children after three of their children, aged 11, 13 and 14, were found subsisting in what authorities called an “unsanitary, unsafe and unsuitable environment” on the couple’s property in the 7000 block of Sun Fair Road in Joshua Tree.
In a prepared release, the sheriff’s department reported that “On Wednesday, February 28, 2018, at approximately 11:04 am, deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Morongo Basin Station, were conducting an area check in the 7000 block of Sun Fair Road in Joshua Tree. Deputies located a travel trailer, which appeared to be abandoned, and a large rectangular box made of plywood on the property. Approximately 30-40 cats were located inside the trailer and roaming freely. While checking the property, deputies contacted three victims ages 11, 13 and 14. Mona Kirk and Daniel Panico were found on the property and determined to be the parents of the victims.”
According to the sheriff’s department, “During the investigation, deputies learned the three victims have lived in the large rectangular box (approximately 20 feet long by 4 feet high by 10 ft wide) for approximately four years. The victims were found to have an inadequate amount of food and were living in an unsuitable and unsafe environment due to the conditions located on the property. [The San Bernardino County Department of] Children and Family Service responded to the location and took custody of the three victims. The property had no electricity or running water. Several large holes and mounds of trash and human feces were located throughout the property.”
Kirk and Panico were arrested and booked into the Morongo Basin Jail for Penal Code Penal Code 273 A (A) Willful Cruelty To Child in lieu of $100,000 bail.
Sun Fair Road is an unpaved trail off Highway 62, which is also known as 29 Palms Highway. The property where the five lived is less than three-quarters of a mile as the crow flies from Highway 62. Little of the property is visible to the outside world, as it is covered in creosote and sparse desert vegetation which hides the debris and trash-strewn property from the few passers-by traversing the area.
Panico had moved with his family into an eight-foot wide, 24-foot long Prowler trailer on the property after a home he had been paying token rent on was no longer available following the death of the owner who was allowing the family to stay there. Initially, the family had been staying in the trailer, but at some point left it to take up quarters in the structure Panico had constructed, using various types of plywood for its sides and tarps for a roof. Though unheated, insulation from the ground was provided by means of mattresses and blankets. At least 30 cats, which the family had adopted, were living on the property, as well. Panico had allowed the cats, one of his acquaintances said, to live out of the trailer to shelter them from marauding coyotes, feral dogs and other predators.
Panico on some occasions ventured into the town of Yucca Valley on a bicycle, where he purchased food for his family. Locals said they had never seen Kirk or the children with him. Efforts by the Sentinel to determine if the three children were enrolled with the Morongo Unified School District were unsuccessful.
This morning, Panico and Kirk came before Judge Bert Swift in the Joshua Tree Courthouse of the San Bernardino County Superior Court and both pleaded not guilty to the three charges of child abuse lodged against them. Swift set bail of $300,000 each, and they were whisked away to West Valley Detention Center n Rancho Cucamonga thereafter.
Mark Gutglueck

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