NewsNational News


Star high school athlete placed in guardianship after head injury faces possible deportation

As a $614,000 accident settlement runs out, his family seeks resources for 24-hour care.
Wilkins Vilcin at assisted living facility
Posted at 10:32 AM, Jun 12, 2024

A former star high school athlete who moved to Florida from Haiti and suffered a major head injury in an accident more than a decade ago ended up in guardianship and received a substantial financial settlement.

But now his money has run out, his guardian has been removed from his case, and he faces an uncertain future.

From star athlete to brain injury patient

Wilkins Vilcin, 34, is the youngest resident of his assisted living facility. He wears diapers and needs help dressing, bathing and completing daily tasks.

“He needs 24-hour care ... an eye on him,” said his sister Fabiola Vilcin Borgelin.

Photo collages on his wall show better days when Wilkins was a standout athlete at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, Florida.

“Run track, play football, run cross country,” Vilcin said, struggling to find words to describe his participation in high school sports.

Vilcin, his father, his brother, and three sisters moved from Haiti in the early 2000s and were granted temporary protected status, which provided a pathway for citizenship.

“He went to state [competitions] for the track 4x4. He was on the football team. He was on the soccer team,” said former teammate Brian Ullrich.

Ullrich, now a nurse in California, is Vilcin’s former teammate who has kept in touch with him over the years. Ullrich is the only classmate Wilkins remembers since suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Wilkins and Brian Ullrich

“It was our homecoming dance, 2010. He was a senior,” Ullrich said. “There was a flip at the dance that he had done and got over-rotated and landed on the back of his head.”

“He was just having a fun night, and out of nowhere, it changed his life,” Vilcin Borgelin said.

Vilcin was rushed to the hospital, where he spent weeks in intensive care and months in recovery.

“Eventually, he's starting rehab in the hospital. He can walk again. He can sit up in the chair. We threw a birthday party for him,” Ullrich said.

He said it was one of the most tragic things he remembers as a teenager.

“It was just unbelievable. You don't know, you know, until you have someone you know go through something like that,” Ullrich said.

Guardian appointed to manage funds and care

Vilcin was declared incapacitated in 2011, and Kathy Johnson was appointed as his professional guardian, overseeing his care and managing his money. That included $614,000 from legal settlements related to the accident.

Vilcin Borgelin says Johnson rarely communicated and didn’t call when he had COVID or was hospitalized for a seizure. Under the state’s guardianship law, the guardian is not required to provide that type of information to a ward's family members.

“I’ve never met her. I've never seen her. Every time when I ask to see her, there’s always an excuse,” Vilcin Borgelin said.

Johnson also moved Vilcin between facilities without telling them.

That is also allowed in Florida, although guardians are required to notify the court when they move a ward under state law.

“We just go see Wilkins, and he’s not there,” Vilcin Borgelin said.

Fabiola Vilcin Borgelin

Ullrich had the same experience last Thanksgiving.

“Wilkins was moved. We can’t tell you where he’s at because you’re not the legal guardian,” Ullrich said.

Ullrich tracked down the guardian, and she told him Wilkins only had $4,000 left.

“He’s going to end up on the street”

“That’s kind of barely going to get us through December. We really need to figure something out, you know, because he can't see stay in the house anymore. We're going to get evicted,” Ullrich said Johnson told him.

“She told me his money runs out. That if he has nowhere to go, he’s going to end up on the street,” Vilcin Borgelin said.

“Are we looking at going back to Haiti and in a time where we've got massive issues going on with gang warfare and all this stuff?” Ullrich said.

In August 2022, more than a decade into the guardianship, Johnson asked the court to move Wilkins’ remaining $158,900 into a pooled trust, telling the judge that would enable her to try to qualify him for government benefits.

But Johnson never managed to get him a green card, which would allow him to qualify for certain benefits.

Sixteen months later, Johnson petitioned the court to resign, saying Vilcin no longer had any money and she feared she would be held liable for his expenses.

Guardian removed from cases

In late February, Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Krier, who appointed Johnson, removed her from all her Collier County cases. That followed a scathing audit alleging missing money, lost records and hacked bank accounts.

“At best, this is mismanagement. At worst, it’s something more,” Krier said at the time.

Scripps News Tampa questioned Johnson about those cases at the hearing, but she and her attorney declined to comment. Records show Johnson billed Vilcin $48,000 for her services during Vilcin’s guardianship.

That included a bill for $500 the month before she told his sister he was running out of money.

Currently, there is no money to pay for Vilcin’s care.

“It’s almost $4,000 just to stay here,” Vilcin Borgelin said.

A new emergency temporary guardian appointed in February is contacting state and federal authorities, trying to get Wilkins a green card so he can qualify for health insurance and other benefits.

The family says Johnson took his birth certificate and other documents and never gave them back.

“We're trying to take him back. So that’s the plan ... for us to take him back,” Vilcin Borgelin said.

Ullrich, his family and Vilcin’s classmates are also helping out.

Emergency fund established

They have worked with a volunteer attorney to set up the Wilkins Vilcin Special Needs Trust.

Donations are being coordinated by Vilcin’s former school.

Vilcin doesn’t understand what’s going on, but his friends and family see a broken system that failed to protect one of the most vulnerable people in its care.

“I can certainly work. I can certainly come up with some money to help him a little bit along. But this is the tiniest of Band-Aids on such a massive problem,” Ullrich said.

The most recent court filing in Vilcin’s case indicates the Florida Department of Children and Families is investigating.

This article was originally published by Adam Walser for Scripps News Tampa.