08/15/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT
When Mindy McCready's mother, Gayle Inge, arrived at the Florida hospital where the country singer had been admitted on July 22 after an apparent suicide attempt, "she was on a respirator, and it was more than I could handle," says Inge. "I grabbed her arm and said, 'Mindy, it's Mom. I'm here.' They made us leave her bedside because she could not hear us, and my tears fell down."
That afternoon police responding to a 911 call had found McCready, 29, unconscious in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Harbourside Hotel in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., having swallowed a nearly fatal dose of pills with wine. She was attended by a visibly shaken William Patrick McKnight, 39, the same man who was charged with attempted murder for allegedly beating up McCready in Nashville on May 8 (PEOPLE, June 6, 2005). The authorities later released an incident report containing a four-page suicide note written in McCready's hand that stated, "I'm sorry I know how selfish this [seems] but I can't take anymore pain." When McCready, best known for her 1996 hit "Guys Do It All the Time," regained consciousness, her mother says, "I told her, 'You might have not come to,' and she said, 'Do you think I wanted to?' "
Four days later McCready was released from the hospital—"I am recovering from what happened," is all she will say about the overdose—and found herself the subject of a felony arrest warrant related to a fraud case in Arizona. It's the sort of trouble that has been a sadly familiar refrain for McCready in the past year and a half. After pleading guilty in November 2004 to prescription drug fraud, she was sentenced to a three-year supervised probation.
As it is, she also faces pending charges of probation violation following her arrest in May for DUI and driving with a suspended license. McKnight, in turn, risks being in violation of his bond from the Nashville arrest, which bans him from having any contact with her. On July 22 he identified himself to police as McCready's fiancé and said the pair were having "some relationship problems." Now, he tells PEOPLE, "we're very much in love."
Suffice it to say, McCready's declared wish to return to the music business is a dim sideshow to the chaos that has become her life. During the spring the singer, once engaged to Lois & Clark actor Dean Cain, became involved with a suspected scam artist named Jonathan Roda, 32. "He came to me under the guise of being some kind of record label owner-producer," she says from Florida. "I didn't realize he was a con man until they took him out in handcuffs." But a witness told the police that Roda openly bragged about his schemes in McCready's presence. Roda was arrested for identity theft and attempted fraud on June 24 in Tucson, and McCready was charged with hindering prosecution. "I am confident I will be exonerated 100 percent," she says, adding that she actually supplied Arizona authorities with evidence against Roda. While the arrest warrant has since been downgraded to a subpoena, Arizona police say the charges stand.
McKnight, meanwhile, has kept a low profile since his May arrest. He has secured a job as a sales rep for a water sports equipment rental company and says that he has completed a 28-day rehab program. "AA is going great," he says. "I pick up my 90-day chip on [Aug.] 8th." An aspiring singer, he plans to release a self-published CD in two months that features "Sweeter," a duet with McCready. McKnight says the love song's lyrics, in which he and McCready pledge "together we'd be forever," remain true.
Back in May McCready testified that McKnight told her, "I'm going to kill you." Today she maintains that he never tried to murder her. "I have always stuck with the fact that the charge was excessive," she says. McCready—who friends and family believe is back with McKnight—says that she has asked the D.A. to offer McKnight a deal and hopes that the case will be closed by the time she makes a scheduled appearance on Oprah
in September to discuss domestic violence.
As McCready makes plans to return to Nashville, her mother waits and worries. "She is in the middle of a domestic violence situation," says Inge, 50. "She is being controlled." Following the May battering incident, McCready told PEOPLE that Inge "has been there for me through this thing with Billy unconditionally." Now the two women, who have had a rocky relationship over the years, appear to be estranged once again. "I'm angry with her for making the decisions she's making," says Inge. "I feel helpless for her. I want my daughter to know that I am with her and only want the best for her."
Jill Smolowe. Beverly Keel in Nashville, Linda Trischitta in Miami and Kerri Smith in Phoenix