A state licensed foster parent from Orcutt and her nephew are facing several felony counts of child abuse, according to a Sheriff’s office news release written by Drew Sugars. Sheriff’s detectives began their investigation on June 29, said Sugars, upon hearing that Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services (CWS) had removed four children from a home in Orcutt.

Bertha Mae Savoy

The news release states that the children (ages 10-16) had been in the care of foster parent Bertha Mae Savoy, 72, for four years. In interviews, the children claimed Savoy had repeatedly denied them food and shelter and beaten them with plastic hangers. Two of the victims said that they were forced to sleep outside on the backyard concrete on two occasions.

The children also said that Savoy would call her nephew, 38-year-old Duane Patrick James, to come over and forcibly punish the children. James allegedly threatened to kill the victims and bury their bodies if they disobeyed.

On Wednesday, June 30, detectives obtained search and arrest warrants for Savoy and James, whose houses sit next to each other. During the search, District Attorney investigators removed four more (non-foster) children — ages 8 to 17 years old — from James’s home. It was confirmed that two of the children had also suffered abuse, according to Sugars.

Duane Patrick James

During the last six weeks, Sheriff’s detectives expanded their investigation by interviewing other juveniles who had been placed with Savoy in the last few years. Three of Savoy’s former foster children corroborated that they had also suffered abuse.

Of the nine confirmed abuse victims, seven lived with Savoy and two stayed with James next door. CWS has placed all the children in protective custody.

Savoy was booked into the Santa Barbara County Jail on June 30 on six felony child abuse charges. She was released on July 1 after posting $100,000 bail. The District Attorney’s Office has since filed two misdemeanor charges of dissuading a witness.

Duane Patrick James was also booked into jail on six felony child abuse charges. He was released on July 20 after posting bail. The District Attorney’s Office has filed one additional misdemeanor count of child abuse.

Sheriff’s detectives are seeking additional information on Bertha Mae Savoy and Duane Patrick James. The Sheriff’s Anonymous Tip Line is (805) 681-4171, and the Santa Maria Sheriff’s Station can be reached at (805) 934-6170.


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