Saying he does not want a convicted sexually violent predator living on his property, Ramona resident Charles J. “Poppa” Koppa wrote “Return to Sender” and “Contract Void” on an envelope containing an uncashed check for $7,350 he had received from Liberty Healthcare Corporation. The check was to hold a vacant home he owns off Highway 67 off the market until a March 13 Superior Court hearing on the state Department of Mental Health proposal to house convicted child molester Matthew Hedge there when Hedge is released from in-hospital treatment and placed in outpatient treatment.
“The contract is broken,” Koppa, a Realtor, said just after 5 p.m. in front of camera crews, reporters, three Ramona planning group members, neighbors of the 3337 Highway 67 property and other Ramonans. “The check is being returned.”
“What a positive ending to a horrific story,” Ramona Community Planning Group Chair Chris Anderson said.
Koppa’s statements that he did not want Matthew Hedge living in his home “with a million-dollar view” drew applause from the Ramonans present.
Anderson said this should be the end of the state placing Hedge in Ramona.
“If they don’t have a willing landlord, they don’t have a placement,” she said. “...They need a willing landlord to rent the house...He won’t be coming here.”
Hedge, 45, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to molesting four children—6- and 10-year-old boys and 9- and 13-year-old girls. He also had exposed himself to children at elementary schools. He enrolled in a sex offender treatment program while in prison and was committed to the Department of Mental Health hospital’s Sexually Violent Commitment Predator program in 1998. He was released into outpatient treatment in a trailer next to Donovan State Prison in 2005 but was returned to the hospital after violations within six weeks in early 2006.
On Jan. 30, the state Department of Mental Health proposed placing Hedge at the Highway 67 address, but the law requires that the public first be permitted to comment. Once Ramonans learned of the proposed placement, and Koppa subsequently learned who Hedge is, the community rallied to prevent Hedge coming here. The proposed placement is less than a mile from Hanson Elementary School, two preschools, a Sunday school and at least two school bus stops.
A standing-room-only crowd of angry residents filled the community center last night for the planning group’s town meeting to register their protest. At the end of the meeting, Vanessa Jerrell, mother of a 3- and a 5-year-old who attend a church preschool visible from the Highway 67 property east of Highland Valley Road, showed Koppa a picture of her children.
“ I asked him to just think,” she said.
Koppa’s voice cracked with emotion when he talked about the encounter. “My grandchildren,” he said, pointing to Jerrell’s two children. “They look like my grandchildren.”
That apparently is when Koppa decided to void the contract now with Liberty Healthcare, the state-hired agency responsible for the proposed placement. Previously, he had said he planned to be at the court hearing to tell the judge what he thought of the process that led to his agreeing to hold the property without even knowing who Hedge is.