Does This Boy Have ... America's Worst Dad?
Destin Perkins had no illusions about his career criminal father, Byron. "My early childhood he was in jail all the time," says the 17-year-old from Jamestown, Ky. "I knew him, but he really wasn't there." Still, as Destin lay ailing with a life-threatening kidney condition last year, he assumed even his ne'er-do-well dad would come through. In January 2006, moved by Byron Perkins's plaintive appeal to help his son, a judge granted him a pass from jail to be tested to see if he was a match to donate a kidney. Instead, Perkins, 38, who had recently been convicted on drug and weapons charges and was facing a minimum 25-year sentence, fled to Mexico with his girlfriend—leaving his son bitter and bewildered. "I don't know how he could lay his head down at night, knowing he ran away and left me up here to die," Destin told CNN.
It appears that was not a question that much concerned Perkins during his 15 months on the lam, part of which was spent on the United States Marshals Service 15 Most Wanted List. When he was finally captured on April 25 in the tourist town of Puerto Vallarta, the elder Perkins told U.S. Marshal Joe Chavarria that he had left his son gravely ill and taken the opportunity to abscond because, "he didn't think he was going to be a match." Getting off the plane in handcuffs at Los Angeles International on his way back to Kentucky, Perkins was asked by a reporter what he wanted to say to his son. Without missing a beat he looked into the camera and said, "I love you." But as Chavarria points out, on the trip back Perkins showed little concern for Destin's condition. "Even when he was arrested," he says, "he wasn't thinking about his son."
Unintentionally, however, the sheer outrageousness of his actions may have benefited Destin. America's Most Wanted ran several stories about the case that triggered an overwhelming response. "After that, the offers to donate a kidney to Destin just poured in," says Deputy U.S. Marshal Dawn Izgarjan. (It is still not clear what caused Destin's kidney failure, which was first detected during a routine school physical for football in 2004.) Last August he received a transplant from an anonymous donor in San Diego, though he isn't sure whether his good fortune was the result of his publicity or the donor list he was on. In any event Destin, whose body had rejected an earlier transplant from his mother, Angela Hammond, has been doing well ever since. "I got a good, healthy kidney," he says. "I feel really good, and I'm able to get back to being a normal kid."
Meanwhile, things weren't going so smoothly for his father, whose rap sheet includes a conviction for bank robbery, and girlfriend Lea Ann Howard, who was out on bond after being convicted of trying to hire an undercover police officer to kill her husband. After taking a car from Howard's mother, Perkins, who had been allowed to stay overnight at his mother's home in Kentucky before the doctor's appointment, simply failed to show up for the tests he was supposed to take.
The pair's trail went cold until February, when an American couple vacationing in Mexico who had seen a TV story about Perkins recognized him. As American officials later learned, Perkins and Howard would work menial jobs and changed their location frequently, sometimes claiming to be crime robbery victims themselves to explain their lack of money or proper papers. "He did mention that life was hard in Mexico," says Chavarria. "They were not having a good time." Deputy Izgarjan says that the manhunt was helped by the fact that her Mexican counterparts seemed equally incensed about what Perkins had done, which possibly motivated them not to give up on a case that ordinarily would have been a relatively low priority. "They never lost interest," she says. "They basically tracked them and kept on until they found them."
Finally another tipster spotted Perkins in Puerto Vallarta. When Mexican lawmen nabbed him he was wearing a pair of shorts that revealed a smiling clown tattoo on his leg that authorities were on the lookout for. When told of the arrest, Destin voiced delight. "At this time," he says, "it'd be really, really hard to forgive him." This fall Destin plans to enroll in Somerset Community College. He says the experience with his dad has spurred him to pursue a career in law enforcement, where he will be able to use his grasp of criminal behavior to help others. Says Destin: "I learned from the worst."
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