Paralyzed and a wheelchair-user, 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 Providence 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 longtime 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.”
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 at 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 that help.
After firing Ashe last November, Home Care hired Brown to make the daily caregiver checks at Gant’s northeast Spokane apartment.
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 daily.
Home Care supervisor Cindy Ballard, who fired Ashe, then described him as “an outstanding care provider” in a recommendation letter. She did not return a telephone call for comment 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 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.
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 that 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 had been ordered and that 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. Brown hadn’t been arrested Tuesday.
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.
“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.”