Friday, September 23, 2016

The horrible fallout from a botched Alabama divorce case: Hannah Upton dies alone in the wilds of Alaska

Hannah Yeilding Upton
The details surrounding Hannah Yeilding Upton's death, at age 23, are murky. But, based on our research, this much is clear: The young woman had multiple special needs and should have been living with her adoptive mother, Linda Upton, who had considerable experience with such conditions.

Through a series of dubious court decisions in the Upton v. Upton divorce case -- some rulings were by Private Judge Gary Pate; others apparently were driven by officials in Jefferson County Family Court -- Hannah Upton wound up living with her father, Birmingham steel executive Bill Upton.

Did that outcome lead to Hannah Upton's death? Does that suggest the machinations of lawyers and compromised judges -- perhaps more interested in generating sizable fees and personal favors -- can prove to be deadly?

Our answer, based on more than three years covering the Upton case, is yes.

How did Hannah Upton come to die alone in the woods of Alaska? Here is our understanding of events:

Hannah Upton faced a number of serious physical and emotional challenges. She suffered from juvenile diabetes, which was subject to spinning out of control without regular monitoring. She had a form of autism, which made it difficult for her to understand cause and effect -- to grasp how one questionable decision can lead to bad outcomes.

At some point, perhaps in early 2014, Hannah Upton struck up an online friendship with a young man who lived in Alaska. She long had loved animals and the outdoors and decided she wanted to move to Alaska. Bill Upton apparently went along with the decision, and Hannah wound up living somewhere near Anchorage, Alaska.

She enrolled at Alaska Pacific University to study large-animal marine science, and that seemed promising. But on December 10, 2014, she was found dead in a small home/cabin on the woodsy outskirts of Anchorage. It was not clear if she was living with someone at the time.

We have not been able to determine a precise cause of death, but it appears Hannah was not able to manage her diabetes on her own. Her blood-sugar levels likely spiked, causing her death.

Judge Gary Pate
(From Facebook)
Was it wise to let a young woman with serious special needs go off more or less on her own to Alaska? A reasonable observer likely would say no. Bill Upton apparently saw no problem with it. But without a series of strange decisions from Alabama courts, it would not have been his decision -- Hannah would have been under her mother's care.

This is from Hannah Upton's obituary:

Hannah Yeilding Upton, 23, passed away on Wednesday, December 10, 2014.

Hannah was attending Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, Alaska. Hannah was pursuing her dreams majoring in large animal marine science. She treasured her family and enjoyed animals. Her joys included reading, drawing, knitting, and caring for children and animals. She was loyal to her friends. She lived a life that made those around her love her. She will be remembered by her family and friends as a daughter, sister and friend who gave to others with all her heart and strength. May we all remember Hannah Upton for the brave and loving life she lived. She was open-hearted and accepted people as they were, loving others more than herself. She was quick to forgive and give hugs. She found joy in life and was able to laugh. We will miss her so much.

And then, there is this, which hints at the challenges Hannah faced in her much-too-brief life:

Hannah is survived by her father, Bill Upton (Gincie); mother, Linda Upton; brothers, William David Upton III (Arden Ward), David Bridges Upton and Brandon David Sherrill Upton; sisters, Breelynne Christine Bice and Polly Ameline; and grandparents, William David Upton and Annie Lou Yeilding Upton. Hannah is also survived by numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and other loved ones.

A reception will be held in memory of Hannah on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 from 11:30 until 1:30 at Southern Heritage Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in memory of Hannah be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, 600 Beacon Parkway West #860, Birmingham, AL 35209.


Anonymous said...

Boy, you used the right word, "horrible." I would also use "sickening."

Anonymous said...

One of my family members has juvenile diabetes, and it's critical for those close to the patient to know how serious this condition can be. When you combine that with autism . . . this should have been a no brainer that she needed to stay close to home.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Linda Upton even knew Hannah had gone to Alaska.

legalschnauzer said...

Good question, @12:58, and I don't know the answer. But my guess is that Linda Upton was not consulted.

Anonymous said...

American divorces should be conducted in federal court. That would not end corruption such as this in Upton case, but it makes sense (if you are married in one state, you are married in another state) and would be a better division of judicial resources. State-court judges are swamped with cases, and they need divorces taken off their plates.

Anonymous said...

Interesting idea, @3:06. Makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Her parents couldn't have stopped her if they wanted to. She was a legal adult, and not incompetent or committed to the supervision and care of any guardian.

Studying a hundred miles away or a thousand, did not increase the risks of independent living. She was in a vibrant school community and not isolated, with access to regular care.

She had personal control of her medications and blood sugar monitoring, and her death could have occurred in any location from taking too much or too little insulin

However questionable or shady her family situation, they could not have blocked her study at a university away from home.

Truthseeker said...

Could Hannah have been shuffled off to Alaska because she knew of the relationship between her father and her stepdaughter or could she have told stories of her own about sexual abuse by her father also?

Anonymous said...

Two very good questions but I'm leaning more towards the relationship with the foster daughter