Judge to Hear Arguments in Pine Lake Civil Suit
A hearing this week could mean the end of an effort by grieving families to hold a local nursing home responsible for the deaths of their loved ones.
On March 29, 2009, seven residents and one nurse at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center were shot to death by a raging giant of a man roaming the halls firing his shotgun point blank at wheelchair- and bed-bound elderly men and women.
Last year a jury found Robert Kenneth Stewart guilty of eight counts of second-degree murder and other charges. His murder victims were Louise DeKler, 98; Tessie Garner, 75; Lillian Dunn, 89; Jessie Musser, 88; Bessie Hendrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89; and nurse Jerry Avent, 39.
Michael Cotton, 53, was shot and injured at the facility while there visiting. A lone Carthage police officer, Cpl. Justin Garner, was shot when he entered the nursing home and found Stewart in a hallway. The two exchanged fire and Garner wounded and then secured the gunman.
Consecutive prison sentences will keep Stewart locked up for more than 100 years, but families of those he killed say the center ought to have had better security, was warned he might come after Wanda Luck, his wife, who worked there, and could have prevented what happened.
The first complaint was filed Dec. 14, 2010, in Durham County on behalf of the estates of Louise DeKler and John Goldston. Later, the families of Linda Feola, Margaret Johnson and Lillian Dunn joined in the suit.
Lawyers for Peak Resources, the company that owns and operates the center, say there was no way to prevent what happened. Attorney Henry Evans is asking Superior Court Judge Anderson Cromer to dismiss the case based on depositions and other evidence.
According to documents filed with the court, Evans says that pleadings, depositions and discovery do not show any negligence. Pinelake “did not owe a duty to protect against criminal acts” committed by a third party, his motion for dismissal claims.
Cromer set 4:30 p.m. on Thursday to hear Evans’ motion and arguments from plaintiffs’ lawyers Mark McGrath and George Podgorny.
After the suit was filed, Evans spoke by telephone with The Pilot about the Peak center.
“It is a good facility and always provided a safe and loving environment,” Evans said. “These are not fortresses, not lockdown facilities. They are the homes of these residents. They are open places that encourage people to come to visit: churches and choirs and families.”
Family members of the lost don’t see why the nursing home should not have been able to lock down the facility when word came that a man was firing a gun in the parking lot outside.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or email@example.com.
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