New details have surfaced about a late senior Southeast Texas restaurant founder’s decline and isolation from the community.
The revelations came as witnesses testified in his daughter’s murder trial Wednesday.
In early September, Charles Sartin had not been seen or heard from in days in the small community of Sabine Pass.
Jerry Eldridge, who lived near the Sartin’s Seafood Founder for four decades, was one of a handful of people who spoke during the trial.
Around Sept. 4, 2019, Eldridge, a school official, a relative and a police officer made up a group that attempted to conduct a welfare check — knocking on the doors and windows and calling out Charles Sartin’s name — but there was no answer.
“I went to the back of his house to his window and I started banging on the window and hollering his name,” Eldridge said. “I kept banging, I kept banging, and I thought I heard a moan.”
Alarmed, Eldridge said he informed the police officer, who was at the front of the house, about the moan.
“We never heard it again,” Eldridge said. “We knew there was a dog in the house. So then, well, was it the dog or was it Charles? I started second guessing myself. It kind of didn’t sound like a dog, but it sounded like a moan.”
Sabine Pass Independent School District Superintendent Kristi Heid also recalled her experience with the small group’s attempt at a welfare check conducted just days before Charles Sartin was found dead in his home.
Heid said community members had growing concerns about Charles Sartin’s welfare, as they hadn’t heard from him in days. She said they tried periodically to check on him, but family members prevented the visits.
Eldridge and Heid said the group also attempted to enter the house during the Sept. 4 visit, ultimately spending about 40 minutes on the property. But the officer threatened to arrest them and charge them with criminal trespassing and/or breaking and entering if they attempted to go inside the home.
“I do regret not just going in,” Heid said.
Charles Sartin’s body later was discovered wrapped in a tarp in a room sealed by duct tape during another welfare check, this time on Sept. 9, 2019 by a different Port Arthur police officer.
Kelli Sartin, 55, is accused of killing her 81-year-old father in September 2019.
“I’m not capable of (killing him),” Kelli Sartin told detectives during the investigation.
She claims her father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, began acting like a “madman” and committed suicide by continuously beating himself with a rolling pin and spatula.
“Given his age, I felt that was highly unlikely to occur,” Port Arthur Police Department Detective Adam Cousins said in Judge Raquel West’s 252nd District Court.
The relative who joined them was Charles Sartin’s niece, Charlene Deslatte of Sabine Pass. She is retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Internal Affairs, where she did staff investigations.
Deslatte said based on Charles Sartin’s isolation over the past couple of years, it was hard for anyone in the family to have a relationship with her uncle.
She became concerned about his wellbeing before his death, based on various reports from community members, who expressed concerns and told her about “incidents.”
Her mother and sister, when they could, tried to take care of his wellbeing. She didn’t join them, as she did not want to risk a possible case that could affect her job. Deslatte said she previously noticed injuries, which she reported to a patient advocate at a hospital.
The patient advocate reached out to Adult and Protective Services, which had been contacted several times. But Charles Sartin was never removed from the home, Deslatte and defense attorney Thomas Burbank said.
In early September, Kelli Sartin came to a family friend “in a panic” wearing large sunglasses, a hat and had a different demeanor, Sabine Pass ISD Cosmetology Teacher Belinda Perkins told Prosecutor Phillip Smith .
“I have never seen her like that before,” she said. “I knew something was not right. She was in a panic. She said, ‘Trevon is in jail and I need to get him out, and I need a ride into town. She just was not in her right state of mind and I knew something was wrong.”
Perkins, whose students used to cut Charles Sartin’s hair for free, reported the incident to the school and got on the phone to try to help find her a ride — but something felt wrong.
“She just said she needed help, needed Trevon out of jail,” she said. “She needed to lift her dad, she couldn’t lift him by herself and she needed Trevon.”
Not long after, police were investigating a homicide.
On Wednesday afternoon, the jury watched a video of Kelli Sartin talking to detectives during the investigation. Footage shortly after police arrived show Kelli Sartin largely emotionless. But by the end, she was in tears and told investigators that her father had become “pissed” and threatened to kill her.
The detective first on the scene found “inconsistencies” with Kelli Sartin’s testimony during the investigation and confirmed that there was no other evidence that anyone else had been in the home.
He described her emotional state as an “up and down rollercoaster.” He said that over the course of the three-hour video that Kelli Sartin had opportunities in the first two hours to share the details of her story, which didn’t add up to him, including why she did not call EMS or police.
While questioning the detective about the inconsistencies, Burbank said Kelli Sartin possibly did not have family to call, was not liked in the community and did not trust the Port Arthur Police Department. He also said it was possible that she had not slept in a couple of days.
Chief Forensic Pathologist Selly Strauch Rivers said the pain experienced from head and body injuries, in addition to clogged arteries from heart disease, meant he wouldn’t have been able to continue to hit himself.
“It becomes very difficult to breathe, because they are in so much pain,” Rivers said.
Due to the body’s decomposed state upon discovery, officials likely wouldn’t have been able to determine whether he had Alzheimer’s, Rivers said. She estimated he’d been dead for up to seven days.
Rivers has performed over 2,500 autopsies and in all her training has never seen case where someone beat themselves to death, she said.
“With your own hands or tool, probably not,” Rivers said. “Maybe throw yourself down some stairs or off a building, but I don’t think you could physically beat yourself to death.”
According to previous reporting from The Enterprise, during a later interview with police, Kelli Sartin admitted to hitting her father with her fist, a spatula and a rolling pin. She was indicted last year and sent to the Jefferson County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bond.
Written by Meagan Ellsworth