March 17, 2009 in City

Caregiver of deceased man sought on theft charge

Family members question accidental-death ruling
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Courtesy Hunter photo

James Shelly Gant died Jan. 3 in a Spokane hospital.
(Full-size photo)

Paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, James Shelly Gant died suddenly from a fast-spreading bacterial infection in early January after complaining about a newly assigned home-health caregiver.

The death of the Spokane man was ruled accidental after family members initially were told it may have involved suspicious circumstances – triggering investigations of the caregiver by police and Adult Protective Services.

Now, police are looking for the caregiver who was charged two weeks ago with attempted first-degree theft for allegedly drafting a false will a day before Gant died.

Ronald Lon Brown is accused of taking the forged will to Sacred Heart Medical Center in an attempt to gain access to Gant’s personal belongings and $7,022 in cash he had when admitted to the hospital.

Gant’s death certificate says he died from an internal bacterial infection caused by a contaminated catheter surgically implanted after he was paralyzed in a bicycle accident in the 1980s.

Two months before Gant died, Home Care of Washington fired his long-time caregiver, Ronald Ashe, claiming he failed to pass a third background check by the company.

Ashe says he believes neglect played a role in the death of the 68-year-old former Kaiser Aluminum employee. Ashe cleaned Gant’s catheter daily and says “he never had any bacterial infections when I was taking care of him.”

“If they hadn’t fired me, I do think James would be alive today,” Ashe said. “I was taking way better care of him than the guy they sent in after me.”

Convicted of a drug charge in 1990, Ashe said he bonded well with Gant, himself a felon whose record included a conviction of armed robbery. On occasions, Gant would fall out of his wheelchair or bed in the middle of the night in his apartment and call Ashe instead of 911.

“I’d drive across town, and help him get back in bed, and that was that. No big deal,” said Ashe, who didn’t get paid for those humanitarian gestures.

After firing Ashe last November, Home Care hired Brown to make the daily caregiver checks at the northeast Spokane apartment where Gant lived by himself.

The caregiver, hired under a state contract, was required to help bathe Gant, assist with shopping and prepare meals and change and clean his catheter on a daily basis.

Home Care supervisor Cindy Ballard, who fired Ashe, then described him as “an outstanding care provider” in a recommendation letter, did not return a telephone call for comment on Tuesday.

Gant’s sister, Oletha Davis, who lives in Freeport, La., spoke with her brother on the phone in the weeks prior to his death.

“He was a complaining about the new caregiver, said he wasn’t doing his job,” Davis said.

She had no idea her brother was taken to the hospital and didn’t learn of his death until two days later. She flew to Spokane Jan. 9 and immediately began asking questions of hospital administrators, police, the medical examiner’s office and Adult Protective Services.

Davis said she learned from the apartment manager that the caregiver was seen going into her brother’s apartment after his death.

“Nobody wanted to tell me nothing,” said Davis. “They didn’t feel any interest in my brother’s death whatsoever.”

Her brother, one of eight children born in Louisiana to Charlie and Vidalia Gant, moved to Spokane in the late 1960s, hoping to get a job at Kaiser. He was convicted in 1972 of robbing a downtown pharmacy and spent a few years in the state prison.

Davis said she eventually learned a police detective was assigned the case and that her brother’s death was being investigated as a possible homicide by neglect. Then she learned that no autopsy was ordered and the Medical Examiner’s Office had concluded by looking at medical records that the death was accidental.

“I still don’t even know how he got to the hospital,” Davis said. “I’m sitting down here in Louisiana and still can’t get no answers. The detective is mad at me because I called his boss and the chief’s office.”

Davis learned from The Spokesman-Review that her brother’s last caregiver was charged March 4 with attempted first-degree theft. A check Tuesday showed Brown still hasn’t been arrested.

Gant’s son, Jerome Hunter, of Seattle, also has questions surrounding his father’s death and the care he received in the final weeks of his life. “I think there was a lack of responsibility on the part of the caregiver and lack of supervision by the Home Care company,” said Hunter, a 1999 Ferris High School graduate. He moved to Seattle and earned a history degree in 2007 from the University of Washington.

“I’m not really convinced that it was an accident,” Hunter said. “It might have been more neglect than accidental.”

“I feel saddened and confused.”

Bill Morlin can be reached at (509) 459-5444.


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