A worker who allegedly allowed for an elderly resident at the Atria Walnut Creek assisted living facility to ingest cleaning solution last summer has been charged in his death, the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office announced Friday.
Lateshia Sherise Starling, 54, of San Pablo, is facing one count of felony elder abuse resulting in the death of Constantine Albert Canoun.
Canoun, 94, lived in the memory care unit of the facility and was rushed to the hospital on Aug. 23 after ingesting an all-purpose cleaning solution that was in the kitchen. He later died on Aug. 31 after suffering injuries to his stomach, esophagus and part of his throat, prosecutors said.
"We are aware of the criminal complaint against our former employee and will continue to work with the authorities," Atria Senior Living officials said Friday.
The death of Canoun came just days after another Atria resident in San Mateo was given dishwashing liquid as juice and died. The woman, Trudy Maxwell, was 93.
In a lawsuit filed last September on behalf of the family of Maxwell, the plaintiffs outline allegations of "stunning and inexcusable neglect and abuse" over a period of time that culminated in her death on Aug. 29.
Maxwell died two days after drinking Ultra Klene, a strong-smelling sodium hydroxide solution that lawyers in the suit say is stronger than Drano.
Lawyers for Maxwell's family say that Canoun's death should have raised a "red flag" that such things were occurring in Atria facilities and they are attempting to show a pattern of ongoing wrongdoing by the company.
Ultra Klene is the color of fruit punch or cranberry juice -- a deep pinkish red -- and both residents were suffering from dementia, according to court documents.
In Maxwell's case, Atria claims that an employee mistakenly served residents the chemicals instead of juice, though the suit alleges that employees told first responders that Maxwell had located the cleaner on her own and drank it, something her lawyers say was "impossible" due to her declining health.
Atria later said that an employee had made a mistake by serving the cleaner to Maxwell.
The suit alleges that Canoun drank a liquid that had been left in the kitchen at the Walnut Creek facility. The suit alleges in that instance, employees blamed his bad reaction to eating "spicy chips."
Atria responded to the poisonings in an email last September.
"Our ongoing internal investigation determined that on August 27 an Atria Park of San Mateo staff member filled a pitcher with liquid dishwashing detergent that has a nearly identical consistency and color to cranberry juice, with the intention of dispensing the liquid into a commercial dishwashing machine. This was a violation of our policies and procedures. Another staff member picked it up, mistaking it for juice, and served it to three residents. The incidents at our San Mateo and Walnut Creek communities are isolated and unrelated."
The plaintiffs allege that Atria was cited 12 times over five years for health and safety violations, four of which they say were "type A," meaning they exhibited an immediate risk to health, safety, or personal rights.
"Their primary job is to keep seniors safe," reads the claim. "Atria defendants did just the opposite."
"Our residents will always be our top priority," said Atria in an email after the Maxwell lawsuit came out. "We devote significant resources to ensure our staff are thoroughly trained and able to meet our residents' needs at all times. We take this incident very seriously. We're continuing to work with authorities and the Department of Social Services to fully review and assess the incident. Our hearts remain with the residents affected, their families, and loved ones."
Sterling is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday and is being held at the Martinez Detention Facility on $100,000 bail.
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