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Man found guilty in neglect case
Sunday, May 6, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
After deliberating for more than three hours Friday, a Martinsville jury found Richard C. Wagoner Jr. guilty of abuse or neglect of an incapacitated man that resulted in the man’s death.
Joe Tuggle, 57, lived in an adult home on Minor Street in Martinsville that is owned by Wagoner’s company, the Claye Corp.
Tuggle died Feb. 18, 2011, about 10 days after he was scalded in a bathtub and suffered second- and third-degree burns on 25 to 30 percent of his body, according to testimony.
He was treated at the home with first aid cream, ointment and cold compresses, according to testimony.
An autopsy concluded that Tuggle died from sepsis and pneumonia secondary to thermal injury, testimony showed.
Prosecutors with the Attorney General’s Office maintained that Tuggle died because he did not receive medical care for the burn injuries, according to testimony. Prosecuting the case were Kevin Nunnally and David Tooker, assistant attorneys general for health care fraud and elder abuse.
The jury of seven women and five men heard testimony for four days before Wagoner took the stand in his own defense Friday morning.
Wagoner, 53, testified that he is not directly involved with patient care at the Minor Street home or others owned by his company.
A chart that showed the organizational structure of the company showed Wagoner is president of the company. Cynthia Spence Epley is the director of operations of the homes, according to Wagoner’s testimony and the chart.
Six supervisors answer to Epley, while direct caregivers (those who take care of clients) answer to those supervisors, according to testimony.
Wagoner estimated the 80 employees in his company work with “roughly 85 clients per day at different levels of care.”
He said he relied on the caregivers, supervisors and Epley to tell him if a client had problems.
The first Wagoner said he knew of the scalding was when he received a phone call from Epley on Feb. 9. Wagoner said Epley told him that she had talked to a supervisor at the home and “there was an incident the night before” with Tuggle.
He was told that Tuggle had soiled the sofa in the living room, and a caregiver helped him to the bathroom and set Tuggle on the toilet.
The caregiver then went into the kitchen to get cleaning supplies and later heard Tuggle saying, “Help me. Help me,” Wagoner said he was told.
The caregiver found Tuggle in the tub “with the water running,” Wagoner said he was told. Two caregivers got Tuggle out of the tub and “dried him off,” Wagoner said he was told.
The supervisor who was notified about the scalding incident called the hospital and described the injury as having the appearance of a sunburn, according to Wagoner’s testimony. The supervisor was told by hospital personnel to put cold compresses on the injury, Wagoner said he was told.
Also, the supervisor was told “there were a lot of” cases of flu and infections at the hospital, and it “was not a good idea” to bring Tuggle there for evaluation/treatment, Wagoner said he was told.
Wagoner testified that he saw Tuggle while visiting the home on Feb. 9, but he did not see all of Tuggle’s injuries.
Later, Wagoner said he was told that the burn injuries were healing.
Earlier in the trial, some staff members testified that they had put Tuggle in a van to take him to the hospital after his burns were discovered, but Wagoner said he wanted to see Tuggle first so they returned to the home. The staff members said Wagoner decided the home’s staff could treat Tuggle there.
According to testimony, caregivers complete progress reports on each client they work with each day. Caregivers who testified, and progress reports that were presented, did not include information about any after-effects of Tuggle’s injuries, but rather stated that Tuggle was eating healthy meals, relaxing and — according to one report — laughed and smiled.
Initially, Epley also was indicted on a charge of abuse/neglect of an incapacitated adult resulting in injury or death in connection with the case, but it was later agreed that she would not be prosecuted.
Before sending the case to the jury Friday, Martinsville Circuit Court Judge G. Carter Greer said the burden of proof was on the state, and he outlined what prosecutors must have proven in each of the three options available to jurors.
For misdemeanor abuse or neglect of an incapacitated adult, Greer said the state must have proven that Tuggle was an incapacitated adult, that Wagoner was the responsible person, and that Wagoner abused or neglected Tuggle.
For a felony, prosecutors must have proven those three things as well as that the abuse or neglect resulted in Tuggle’s death, Greer said.
“If you find the commonwealth failed” to prove either charge, Greer advised jurors to find Wagoner not guilty.
The jury recommended a five-year sentence. Greer set sentencing for Oct. 18.