AG's investigators charge 5 in deaths of elderly at Colorado long-term care facilities

DENVER – The Colorado Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting five people in relation to the deaths of two elderly people who were in long-term care facilities and allegedly died as a result of the people’s negligence.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and her office has a Medical Fraud Control Unit in charge of investigating abuse and neglect of patients at federally-funded care facilities, which led the investigation.

The first case the team is prosecuting is that of a man named Buddhi Rai, who had a seizure disorder and several other debilitating illnesses, and who drowned in November 2014 while in a bathtub at the Wheat Ridge Regional Center’s Secrest House.

Coffman’s office says that 60-year-old Victoria Pletting and 52-year-old Joanita Serwadda were tasked with caring for Rai, and that they were to almost constantly be monitoring him at all hours of the day.

Early on Nov. 20, 2014, Rai got into the bathtub, which Pletting and Serwadda were aware of, but was left alone behind a closed door for around 10 minutes, according to the AG’s Office.

When the two re-entered the bathroom, Rai was lying on his side in the bathtub with his nose and mouth underwater. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful, and the coroner’s office listed drowning as Rai’s cause of death, which the attorney general says “may have been precipitated by a seizure.”

Pletting faces manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide of an at-risk adult charges, while Serwadda was charged with criminally negligent homicide of an at-risk adult.

Additionallly, Coffman’s office has obtained arrest warrants for 32-year-old Deidre Lopez, 36-year-old Roxanne Ousley and 22-year-old Jasmine Salgado in regards to the June 2016 death of Mary Gatewood, 94.

Gatewood was housed at an Ashley Manor Assisted Living Facility location and had advanced dementia. Staffers were to conduct headcounts of those living at the facility every 15 minutes, but on that June day, the headcount didn’t happen, according to Coffman’s office.

Gatewood went into the facility’s backyard and fell, landing in a bed of rocks, where she was for nearly 1 ½ hours before staffers found her. It was hot that day – between 86 and 92 degrees – and Gatewood died of “probable heat stress,” according to her autopsy.

The AG’s Office says surveillance video showed staffers hadn’t done a head count at the facility for at least three hours before Gatewood was discovered.

All three are charged with criminally negligent homicide of an at-risk adult. Ousley also faces a tampering with evidence charge, while Lopez faces an additional charge of attempting to influence a public servant.

Lopez is in law enforcement custody, while Ousley and Salgado are still at large.

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