Victims' Families File Suit Against Pinelake
The families of two Pinelake murder victims are suing the Carthage nursing home, alleging it failed to adequately protect residents.
Durham attorneys Mark McGrath and George Podgorny represent two families of elderly nursing home residents gunned down in a March 29, 2009, shooting rampage that left eight dead and two wounded. The suit was filed Tuesday in Durham.
Robert Kenneth Stewart faces a capital trial, set to begin next summer, on eight counts of first-degree murder and other charges. Jury selection will be in Stanly County, with trial in Moore County Superior Court. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
The plaintiffs in the civil suit are listed as Janet Allen - who lives in Carthage - as administrator of the John Goldston estate, and Linda Feola, for the estate of Louise DeKler.
Stewart"s estranged wife, Wanda Luck, worked at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center. They had separated, divorced, remarried and separated again, according to documents filed in the suit.
The suit alleges that Luck warned Pinelake several times that her husband "would likely attempt to harm or kill her while she was working" and that she believed an attack was imminent.
"At or about the time of their separation, Stewart began reaching out to family members, including Wanda Luck, and spoke to them in terms of going away soon," the complaint says. "Stewart was referring to his plan to attack and kill Luck as she worked at the facility, and then commit suicide, either by his own hand or at the hands of law enforcement officers."
The nursing center tried to protect her by assigning Luck to the Alzheimer"s special care unit at the facility which is locked 24 hours a day and accessible only by passcode, according to court documents.
On the Sunday morning of the shootings, Stewart "gathered a number of firearms from his personal arsenal, including a 12-gauge shotgun and a revolver" and packed a canvas bag "full of ammunition for both weapons," the suit says.
"Stewart also planned to shoot and kill as many people inside the facility as his bag of ammunition would allow, including residents of the facility," the suit says. "Wanda Luck directly communicated to agents and employees of the defendants that ... he would attempt to harm or attack her that day ..."
The suits accuses the nursing center of negligence, alleging Stewart"s "shooting rampage was foreseeable." It cites Stewart"s death threats against Luck, the probability of his carrying them out at Pinelake while Luck was working and claims the facility knew of "this dangerous and life threatening situation."
Because the nursing center had been warned, the facility had a duty to it residents to maintain a safe condition in the areas where the victims were killed and to warn patients of the "threat posed by Robert Stewart." The suit says the the facility failed to warn residents, protect them or control access to the nursing home. It accuses the company of "proximately causing the deaths. It says that if Stewart had been unable to gain access, they would not have been killed.
DeKler and Goldston"s estates are asking for damages "in excess of" $10,000 for pain and suffering of the deceased prior to their deaths, medical and funeral expenses, the family"s loss and other damages available under applicable law including legal costs.
According to the documents McGrath and Podgorny filed with the court, police found a number of high-caliber shotguns, other firearms, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in Stewart"s double-wide trailer home. They included a .50-caliber shotgun, a 28-gauge shotgun, a black powder revolver, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a .50-caliber pistol. The suit says Stewart had personally threatened his wife several times, indicating he meant to kill her or do her great bodily harm.
Luck got to work before 10 a.m. that Sunday and again told other workers that she thought he might try to kill her that day, so they moved her to the special locked unit, the suit says.
Stewart arrived at Pinelake about 9:45 a.m. and parked his 1998 Jeep Cherokee in the lot. As he got out, he saw Michael Lee Cotton - a visitor - and shot him, wounding Cotton in the left shoulder. Cotton raced inside to warn staff members about a gunman.
Residents and staff called 911 as Stewart walked to the unlocked main entrance door and went inside.
When Luck heard gunshots, she hid in a closet, documents say. Stewart walked the halls, searching for her and indiscriminately firing his weapon, killing seven residents and a nurse, Jerry Avant Jr.
Within four minutes, Carthage police officer Justin Garner arrived and entered the facility without backup. He quickly located Stewart in a hallway, "drew his sidearm and demanded that Stewart drop his weapon and surrender," the suit says. Stewart raised his shotgun, aimed it toward Garner and fired. Simultaneously, Garner fired his weapon, hitting Stewart in the chest." Garner, who was struck in the leg, handcuffed Stewart and placed him under arrest.
The main office of Peak Resources, parent company of the center, was closed due to inclement weather as was the office of the plaintiffs" attorneys in Durham. Management at the Pinelake center in Carthage declined comment. Documents in the case were obtained through the courtesy of the office of the Clerk of Superior Court of Durham County.
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story