DA drops case against Md. man who had wife leashed at York Fair

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Fair goers take to the rides on a rain-free evening at the York Fair, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018.  John A. Pavoncello photo

A Maryland man accused of wrapping a leash around the neck of his wife — who has severe dementia — at last year's York Fair is no longer facing a criminal charge of simple assault.

The York County District Attorney's Office dropped the case against Walter Wolford Sr., 67, of Hagerstown, according to court records. The DA's office filed its motion to dismiss the case on Monday, Sept. 9, and presiding Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness approved it the next day.

"This is a husband who made an ill-advised decision while attempting to provide his dying wife with a trip to the fair," District Attorney Dave Sunday wrote in his motion. "The District Attorney's office has collaborated with the Washington County, Maryland, Department of Social Services, and after additional investigation they closed the case and stated that the defendant is trying the best he can to care for his wife."

Sunday's motion also states: "I am of the opinion that this case lacks prosecutorial merit."

Defense attorney John Ogden told The York Dispatch it would be much easier for Wolford to put his wife in a nursing home or assisted-living facility, but Wolford thinks he can provide Viola Wolford with a better quality of life in their home.

"He can give her better food, better care and more attention, in his opinion," Ogden said. "He doesn't want to just put her in a room and keep her a shut-in."

He said Maryland social services authorities visited the Wolfords several times, and each time found that Walter Wolford was a good caretaker.

At his preliminary hearing last October, Walter Wolford testified he attached a dog leash to his wife's belt when they visited the York Fair on Sept. 15, 2018, so she wouldn't wander away from him as she has in the past.

"It's getting so bad, it's hard to take her anywhere," he testified. "I like taking her places because it makes her happy. I think that's what's keeping her alive."

Wolford had been charged with the second-degree misdemeanor of simple assault.

Exhausted: Walter Wolford has testified that it was Viola Wolford who got the 8- to 10-foot  leash wrapped around her neck as she was trying to remove it from her belt. He said it happened while he was suffering from a dizzy spell related to a medical condition.

"After a couple hours (at the York Fair), I was extremely exhausted," he said, adding he was "shocked" his wife had been able to tangle the leash around herself in that way.

Walter Wolford explained that he must be able to keep control of his wife so she doesn't escape from him.

"She can outrun me by a mile," he said last fall, adding that Viola Wolford went missing for 30 to 45 minutes at 2016's York Fair. He said York Fair workers stopped her at a gate, which is how her husband found her.

"I did the best I could. ... I can't let her run away from me," he testified. "You ask anyone in Hagerstown what a devoted husband I am. They all know me."

Restless: During last year's preliminary hearing, Viola Wolford wandered around the courtroom, ceaselessly speaking softly and unintelligibly and appeared not to understand what was happening around her.

Walter Wolford repeatedly left the defense table to reassure his wife, who had been a geriatric nurse's aide when she was younger.

Viola Wolford cared for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease, so she knew what was going to happen to her when she was given the diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's that turned into dementia, according to her husband.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.