Death of man with Down syndrome ruled a homicide

Timothy Bradford Smith died of traumatic asphyxiation after 260-pound caregiver sat on him

January 14, 2011|By DON AINES |

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — The Franklin County coroner has ruled that the death of a man with Down syndrome who suffocated in September after a caregiver reportedly sat on him was a homicide.

 The cause of the Sept. 9 death of Timothy Bradford Smith, 37, was traumatic asphyxiation, and the manner of death homicide, or "death at the hands of another person," Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner said in a news release.

But "this ruling in no way infers criminality of those involved," Conner said.

The death of Smith at a home operated by Person Directed Supports Inc., or PDS, on Field Circle in Guilford Township is being investigated by Pennsylvania State Police, Conner said.

Trooper Jeffrey Bopp said Friday that there in an ongoing investigation into Smith's death, but no criminal charges have been filed.

"We received the written autopsy report just this week," said Becki Boor, one of Smith's sisters. The report stated that a 260-pound caregiver restrained Smith by sitting on his back until he stopped breathing, according to Boor.

A telephone message left Friday afternoon for an attorney representing PDS was not returned.

The incident prompted the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to inspect the home in Franklin County and three more operated by PDS in Lancaster and York counties, said Michael Race, the department's director of communications.

As a result of the inspections, the department in November issued an emergency relocation order for the three facilities in Lancaster and York counties, Race said. Smith had been the only resident at the Field Circle home, he said.

PDS appealed the order, Race said. Pending the appeal, the homes continue to operate, but the department has been in negotiations with PDS to ensure "those residents are safe and properly cared for," he said.

The licensing inspection summary said there was no restrictive procedure plan for Smith and that a staff member placed him in a face-down floor restraint.

"The individual died following the restraint," the inspection summary said.

 Daily logs "indicated that he was restrained on the floor on past occasions. None of these incidents of abuse were reported."

"Staff in the home were not trained to utilize any type of floor restraint," the summary said.

"There was improper staff training in allowable restraint methods," Race said. What reportedly happened at the house is "not recognized as a method of restraint," he said.

The inspections found "a litany of issues" involving the PDS-operated homes, ranging from improper training and sanitation, to poor maintenance of records and medication logs, Race said.

Smith had resided at the home for about two years after having lived in two other facilities in the Chambersburg area, Boor said. Smith had been living with his parents until he was about 21 years old, and his parents died within seven months of each other, she said.

"What I want is for my brother's death not to be in vain," Boor said. "There has to be some sort of mandated training for these people.

"The important thing is it doesn't happen to anybody else," she said.

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