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EXCLUSIVE: Father of woman charged with Mt. Vernon car fires details her battle with mental illness

Posted at 6:29 PM, Dec 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-27 12:12:08-05

BALTIMORE — The 25-year-old woman charged with setting multiple cars on fire last week in Baltimore's Mt. Vernon neighborhood will undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Lakia Letterlough was charged with 10 counts of first-degree malicious burning. A judge ordered the mental health assessment Wednesday during a bail review hearing.

Jeffrey Letterlough, Lakia's father, spoke exclusively with WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii. He said his daughter struggles with mental illness and he feels the incident could've been avoided but current laws blocked his family from forcing Letterlough into treatment.

In less than a year, the aspiring entrepreneur turned into an alleged arsonist.

At 22, Letterlough said Lakia owned two businesses but her demeanor drastically changed when the businesses dissolved several months ago.

"She was the life of the family. She’s a bright light that burnt oh so bright and all of a sudden, it changed her. She just wasn’t herself, withdrawn and so forth," Letterlough said.

Lakia became more removed from family and recently ran into legal trouble.

Before this year, Letterlough had no criminal record. In the last six weeks, she's been arrested four times. The charges include second-degree assault and theft after she allegedly tried to steal a man's cellphone, and stealing a car with the keys left in the ignition. The latest charges are for the Mt. Vernon car fires. According to charging documents, Letterlough was seen on surveillance setting cars on fire. Ten cars total were damaged in the arson.

"I want to say this to you that my daughter, Lakia Letterlough, was a very, very hardworking young lady. I’m so sorry as far as property damage, the loss of property, and so forth, but this isn’t my daughter at all. My daughter isn’t this type of person," Letterlough said.

Letterlough had a feeling something like this would happen. He last saw his daughter three weeks ago when he tried to restrain her and call for help.

"I just wanted to hold her down until the police came, because I'm thinking if she gets arrested, they'll see her mental condition that way she'll be forced into help," said Letterlough.

His plan was futile. Her individual rights out-powered his as a father.

"One of the police officers came up to me after the interview and he gave me a look that only a father could give another father about my daughter, and he said, 'We have to let her go. We have to let her go,' Letterlough said.

He knew that moment could lead to something more serious. On Saturday, police distributed a mugshot of Lakia Letterlough. The bright young woman Letterlough helped raise had become someone unrecognizable.

"Her wit was just unbelievable. And then you look at that picture and think, wow, this isn't my baby," said Letterlough.

Letterlough hopes the court mandates psychiatric treatment. He also wants the legislature and governor to do something to better help families get loved ones with mental illness into treatment.

The judge ordered Letterlough to undergo a mental health assessment in the next 10 days. A status conference is scheduled for January 7.