Steuernagel’s son ruled incompetent

Jenna Staul

Ravenna-based lawyer appointed as guardian

Portage County Probate Court ruled yesterday that Sky Walker, the son of late political science professor Gertrude Steuernagel, is incompetent and appointed him a guardian.

The incompetence finding for Walker, who has autism, will not affect his ability to stand trial for the assault of a law enforcement officer and attempted murder charges he faces, Probate Judge Thomas Carnes said. A separate competence evaluation for the criminal case was ordered Feb. 10 and will be performed by the Summit County Psycho-Diagnostic Clinic.

About Autism

Joel Mowry, assistant director of the Portage County Mental Health Board, said autism is not a “one size fits all” disorder.

“The hardest thing is that it is so unique,” Mowry said. “Some autistic people really struggle, but others are high functioning – some of them are probably at Kent State.”

Autism Symptoms

• Appears unaware of others’ feelings

• Seems to prefer playing alone – retreats to his or her “own world”

• Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm

• Performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or flapping

• May be unusually sensitive to light, sound and touch, yet oblivious to pain


“This has nothing to do with the criminal case,” Carnes said. “We’re going to be looking at things like personal health issues and things like that – where he lives, how his bills are paid, day-to-day things, his living situation and personal matters.”

Walker, 18, was indicted Feb. 6, the same day his mother died at Akron City Hospital. She was found severely beaten in her Franklin Township home in January.

Ravenna-based attorney Deron Boring was appointed as Walker’s guardian.

Walker’s natural father, Scott Walker, is listed on court documents as living in Neshkoro, Wisc. Carnes said because of the nature of the case, he would only appoint an Ohio resident as Walker’s guardian.

“At this point and time, it needs to be an Ohio resident,” Carnes said. “There are other instances where that may not be the case, but not at this point and time.”

Walker is being held in Portage County Jail on $2 million bond until a grand jury reconsiders his charges.

Maj. Dale Kelly of the Portage County Sheriff’s office said Walker is held in a booking room in the jail where staff can monitor his behavior. His uncle, Bill Steuernagel, who was present at yesterday’s closed hearing, and other relatives visit him regularly.

“There’s a connection between Sky and his uncle,” Kelly said.

Walker is evaluated every other day by the jail’s nursing staff, who are also on hand to give Walker medication daily. At times he has emotional outbursts, Kelly said, but he typically calms down within a few minutes.

“He likes to watch cartoons and the news,” said Kelley, adding that the jail puts a television in front of the window in the booking room. “It calms him down. Most times he’s very peaceful.”

Steuernagel spoke of his nephew at his sister’s Feb. 13 memorial in the Kiva.

“Sky – he’s doing well,” Steuernagel said. “The sheriff’s department are working with us. We’re bringing him chicken nuggets, and you know, he’s still the same old Sky to me.”

Joel Mowry, assistant director of the Portage County Mental Health Board said though Walker’s admission into jail could have been made especially difficult because of his autism, he could adjust. Mowry has not personally evaluated Walker.

“Initially there could be problems, but it really depends on the person,” Mowry said. “It would be traumatic for anyone. But if there is structure and routine, he could build trust. Sometimes there are sensory problems, maybe with noise or clothing fabric and (people with autism) can be easily upset if there’s a change in routine. It’s out of fear and anxiety.”

Kelly said the jail brought in experts from Portage County Mental Retardation and Development Disability to show staff how to properly interact with Sky.

“We’ve taken extra steps to get people on board because of the complexity of this and to show us what to expect,” Kelly said. “We’ve had autistic people here before, but we’ve never had anybody involved in something like this.”

Contact public affairs reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected].