The Cusic family is grief-stricken over the Dec. 8 death of Anita Labkon at the hand of her son, Ed Cusic, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Ed Cusic's brother, Warren "Andrew" Cusic, Junction, characterized Ed's life in the last few years as one of turmoil and impulsive behavior which few made a serious effort to stop, though he believes there were opportunities to intervene.
"What it comes down to is Ed Cusic is responsible for Ed Cusic. It's a shame he got passed along for who he is," Cusic said.
"Ed used to be a football star and track star back in the day and he was always given a pass."
Parents love their sons and will aid them, hoping for the best. The family believes Labkon paid the price for that love with her life the night of Dec. 8 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the house she and Ed were living in, taking care of it for family friend. Cedar Rapids Police believe Ed beat Labkon to death with a crowbar.
The incident came as a shock to the family, though Ed's unpredictable acts of violence were well-known to the family and to Southern Illinois law enforcement.
"I couldn't believe I was begging for my own life. After her, he had nothing. I thought he'd hurt her, but didn't think he'd kill her," Cusic said.
Labkon grew up in Gallatin County and spent most of her life raising her family and operating a beauty shop in Harrisburg. She married Hal Labkon and the two lived in Palm Bay, Fla., before a hurricane destroyed the home.
They moved to Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Hal Labkon died four years ago and she moved to Cedar Rapids to house sit for Hal's friend, Will Swarts, an engineer who traveled.
Ed was in Harrisburg while his life came apart over the last several years. He was a heavy drinker and had been attracted to drugs since high school, but was able to keep his life under control until about 2005, Cusic said.
Ed worked as a chief engineer of channel maintenance for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. His crew's duty was dredging rivers. He was in the boat on the river working beneath a railroad trestle when his life changed in an instant.
"A railroad spike fell 90 feet and hit his shoulder within an inch of his neck. Anyone else it would have killed him. It put him down on the ground and broke three vertebrae," Cusic said.
Ed had legitimate injuries and a good reason to be prescribed medicine for his pain — very addictive medicine, like oxycontin and hydrocodone. But his family life soon spiraled out of control. Ed and his wife used the drugs while raising three children, and then his wife left with another man, traveled to Tennessee and got arrested after burglarizing churches and robbing a convenience store, Cusic said.
Page 2 of 3 - Ed was left trying to raise three children on his own in a steadily worsening state of health and mental control.
Cusic said the doctor was prescribing the medication properly, though Ed might take 90 days' worth of medication in 30 days and find other means to get through until he could get the next prescription. Cusic said Ed managed to spend about $100,000 of their fathers' money before their father died of pancreatic cancer in 2007.
Cusic said Ed was living in Harrisburg until he burned his own house down. Cusic believes Ed was under the influence when the accident happened. He witnessed Ed's behavior himself one horrific night at his own home south of Junction on state Route 1 near Eagle Creek.
Operating Cusic Specialized Transport — a fuel-hauling trucking business — Cusic was up at 4 a.m. getting ready to go to work while Ed was visiting.
"Ed was in the kitchen. He'd been drinking beer all night," Cusic said.
Ed was in an addled state and was trying to fry some eggs with about half a pound of butter on the stove with the burner turned up all the way, Cusic said.
Cusic told him to turn the stove down. Ed would not. Cusic turned the stove down himself, but Ed kept turning it back up.
"I was sure he was going to burn the house down, he had just got those pills and all that. I said, 'You've already burned your house down, don't burn my house down,'" Cusic said.
Ed flew into a rage. He attacked Cusic with kitchen chairs, breaking chairs over Cusic's body. Then he grabbed a knife and stabbed Cusic multiple times.
"He got me a couple times, once really good," Cusic said.
He said the Gallatin County State's Attorney charged Ed only with domestic battery. No one in the family would bond Ed out and Cusic said after about 60 days the county had him released rather than pay the money for housing him at the White County jail on the condition he never returned to Gallatin County.
It was not the first time Ed's violent behavior had earned him a minor punitive consequences. Cusic said years even before Ed's accident he had chased his first wife out of their house in Harco and shot at her, though he did not hit her. That incident earned Ed 60 days in rehab, Cusic said.
Ed apparently at one point realized he had a problem, that he was danger to himself and others, and admitted himself to the Mulberry Center, a mental health facility of Harrisburg Medical Center. He spent two weeks there, but the results were not long-lasting.
Cusic said his own daughter was living in the family home on Poplar Street and believes Ed — thinking he should be living in that home — set fire to it.
Page 3 of 3 - "I called Mom and let her know her son was trying to destroy my daughter's life and I wanted him arrested for arson," Cusic said.
Harrisburg Police investigated, but no charges resulted from the investigation. Ed took a bus to Iowa.
Ed could not get the same medication in Iowa he was able to procure from a Harrisburg doctor, so Cusic said a family member drove Ed from Iowa back to Harrisburg every three months to get his medication. Cusic said he does not accuse the Harrisburg doctor of overprescribing, though Ed was overusing and would "beg, borrow or steal" to get more medications than was prescribed him.
In Iowa Ed tried again to get some help. The family tried to help get Ed into a Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Program in Davenport, Iowa. The agency told the family Ed could not be permitted into the program because a portion of the treatment involved physical labor and Ed was not eligible due to his old injury.
It was 10 days later police responded to Labkon's residence at 624 Old Marion Road NE in Cedar Rapids, Iowa., to a report of a "disturbance with a weapon," according to the Cedar Rapids newspaper The Gazette. There they found Labkon dead.
According to the newspaper's coverage, police reports indicate Ed had told a dispatcher he struck his mother with a crowbar because he believed she was threatening him with a knife. Police arrested him on a charge of first-degree murder.
Cusic says Ed's was the worst possible case of a life spiraling out of control with no one able or willing to intervene.
"He had it going, then his life went to hell. I thought for years, 'When's he going to hit bottom, when's he going to hit bottom?' I guess now he's hit bottom and he's going to spend his life in prison," Cusic said.
Cusic says there is no one to blame for the tragedy but his brother, Ed, though he hopes others take heed of his family's situation.
"Ed Cusic is responsible for Ed Cusic. But it sure seemed like he got a lot of help," Cusic said.
"Maybe next time somebody will get some justice and won't have to go through what my family has gone through."