Cherry hospital patients' deaths, 2003-08

December 28, 2008 

These nine people died under questionable circumstances at Cherry Hospital since 2003. The News & Observer used internal hospital records and public records to document what happened in these cases.

STEVEN HOWARD SABOCK, 50

DIED: April 29, 2008

HOMETOWN: Roanoke Rapids

MANNER: Natural

INVESTIGATION: Yes, deficiencies cited

AUTOPSY: Yes

CAUSE: Heart problems

SUMMARY: Sabock choked on his medication, hit his head and was then left sitting in a chair for more than 22 hours without food, water or medical attention. Video from security cameras showed employees playing cards, watching television and goofing off as Sabock sat ailing and dazed a few feet away.

CLIFTON NAKAYA LARONE GENTRY, 27

DIED: July 22, 2005

HOMETOWN: Jacksonville

MANNER: Suicide

INVESTIGATION: Yes, deficiencies cited

AUTOPSY: Yes

CAUSE: Gunshot wound to the head

SUMMARY: While waiting in the hospital admission office, Gentry is reported to have grabbed a .45-caliber pistol from a sheriff's deputy and shot a staff member in the leg before shooting himself. After his death, the hospital laid down restrictions on law officers taking their firearms into the hospital.

DELORES INGRAM FRANKLIN, 47

DIED: Feb. 8, 2004

HOMETOWN: Goldsboro

MANNER: Natural

INVESTIGATION: Yes, deficiencies cited

AUTOPSY: Yes

CAUSE: Heart disease

SUMMARY: Though Franklin's death was reported as natural, an investigation determined she stopped breathing while in a seclusion room immediately after a dose of the sedative Thorazine injected by a hospital nurse without a doctor's approval. She was then left unobserved, a violation of procedure. Thorazine can cause abnormally low blood pressure, which can lead to death in patients with heart disease. Attempts to revive her were complicated when the staff was unable to locate needed emergency medical equipment. The report filed by the hospital after her death indicates she was not in restraints and seclusion at any time in the 24 hours before her death, which was not true.

DONALD MICHAEL JONES, 32

DIED: July 27, 2006

HOMETOWN: Greenville

MANNER: Natural

INVESTIGATION: Yes, deficiencies cited

AUTOPSY: No

CAUSE: Acute myocardial infarction

SUMMARY: Though Jones is listed as dying of a heart attack, a subsequent investigation cited the hospital for allowing Jones access to a bottle of the antidepressant Elavil. He took 28 pills and overdosed while awaiting discharge from the hospital after pleading to stay. An inspection after Jones' death found the staff had not properly secured potentially lethal drugs.

JANELLA WILLIAMS, 35

DIED: Feb. 17, 2006

HOMETOWN: Acre Station

MANNER: Homicide

INVESTIGATION: Yes, deficiencies cited

AUTOPSY: Yes

CAUSE: Compressional asphyxia

SUMMARY: Williams suffocated while being held down by more than a dozen staff members and then left unsupervised in restraints. Regulators later cited the hospital with numerous violations after her death, though the local district attorney says he was never notified of the homicide to conduct a review for potential criminal negligence. The state settled a wrongful death claim, paying $275,000 to Williams' mother.

MARCUS ANTHONY MILLER, 17

DIED: June 1, 2003

HOMETOWN: Wilson

MANNER: Natural

INVESTIGATION: Yes, no deficiencies cited

AUTOPSY: Yes

CAUSES: Undetermined

SUMMARY: Found dead next to his bed in the early morning. An autopsy was unable to determine the exact cause of death, but the report indicates Miller had been taking Geodan, a then-new antipsychotic with the potential to cause heart problems and sudden death.

ROBERT EARL LEONARD JR., 19

DIED: Dec. 25, 2006

HOMETOWN: Rocky Mount

MANNER: Accident

INVESTIGATION: Yes, no deficiencies cited

AUTOPSY: Yes

CAUSE: Asphyxia; inhalation of gastric contents

SUMMARY: Admitted Oct. 22 with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and substance abuse, a hospital report says. Leonard was hitting other patients and was placed on a close observation status that required at least one staff member to be in the same room with him. At 4:15 p.m. Christmas Day, Leonard went to his room to lie down, got in bed and pulled the covers over his head, which is described as unusual behavior for him. He appeared to be asleep, the report says. When a staff member tried to rouse him about 5:10 for supper, he was no longer breathing, and there was mucous on his pillow. An autopsy concluded he died after inhaling his own vomit.

BARBARA ANN WINSTEAD, 62

DIED: June 24, 2004

HOMETOWN: Wilson

MANNER: Unspecified

INVESTIGATION: None indicated

AUTOPSY: Not known

CAUSE: Septicemia

SUMMARY: Admitted to Cherry on May 31 with a diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder, she refused to eat, drink or sufficiently bathe. She developed a urinary tract infection and 103-degree fever. She was treated with antibiotics, but the infection persisted. On June 21, she was transferred to Dix Hospital in Raleigh for more intensive medical treatment. Within minutes of arrival she was noted to be having difficulty breathing and had a rapid heart rate. She was transferred to a nearby acute medical hospital where she died three days later.

JOHNNY LEE INGALLS, 42

DIED: Aug. 26, 2005

HOMETOWN: Washington

MANNER: Natural

INVESTIGATION: Yes, no deficiencies cited

AUTOPSY: Yes

CAUSE: Withdrawal state

SUMMARY: Admitted to Cherry the evening of Aug. 25 with alcohol-induced psychosis; an autopsy report says Ingalls was unruly and "required significant sedation during the night." The staff, unable to wake him at 8 the next morning, called 911. It took 30 minutes for paramedics to arrive, according the hospital's report. The patient was declared dead upon arrival to a nearby emergency room. Ingalls' death so soon after his arrival at Cherry raises questions about whether his symptoms for alcohol withdrawal were adequately monitored.

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