Judge Delays Pinelake Testimony for Further Evidence
A judge heard — but did not rule on — a request to dismiss a civil suit against a Carthage nursing home that was the site of a mass shooting in 2009.
Attorneys for Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center sought Thursday to have Superior Court Judge Anderson Cromer dismiss a suit filed by the families of several people killed in the March 29, 2009, shooting.
Lawyers for Peak Resources, which owns Pinelake, have said the facility and staff could not have reasonably foreseen that Robert Kenneth Stewart would enter the facility that day looking for his estranged wife, Wanda, and begin shooting.
Eight people — seven patients and a nurse — were killed that day. Stewart and a Carthage police officer were wounded when they exchanged gunfire.
Stewart last year was convicted of eight counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to more than 130 years in prison on those and other offenses.
Family members of some of the victims claim the nursing home failed in its duty to protect their people from harm. Lawyers for the families opposed Peak Resources’ request to dismiss the case Thursday morning and also told the court there was more evidence yet to come in. Depositions of certain witnesses had been scheduled for July.
After hearing some argument from both sides, Cromer met privately with lawyers for both sides. Returning to the bench afterward, he said he would hear the arguments but defer any decision until after the scheduled depositions were done, and he’d heard from both sides as to their relevancy.
“Attorneys said they could advise me by July 16 at 5 o’clock whether anything in those depositions was something they considered relevant,” Cromer said. “This case is scheduled for trial Sept. 9.”
Attorney Henry Evans, representing Pinelake, said there was no basis for believing Pinelake could reasonably have foreseen what Stewart did. Without that, there would be no basis for relief, he contended.
He cited a case where an estranged husband entered a refuge for violently abused women and killed his wife. The court ruled that that facility was not responsible. But Cromer noted a difference between that place and Pinelake.
“It’s not a violence shelter; it’s a nursing home,” the judge said. “How does that fit? It seems to me that’s the nub of this case.”
The families’ lawyer, George Podgorny Jr., said that other case was about a hidden facility for abused women where an estranged husband found the concealed place of refuge, entered an unlocked door, and then murdered his wife.
“The nub is whether the actions of Mr. Stewart were foreseeable,” Podgorny said. “There were measures that could have been taken. The information available in the reasonable exercise of care was that her husband was drinking heavily, had carried a gun with him when he went about, had problems with anger. All of that was available to Pinelake if they took reasonable steps to determine whether some injurious action could occur.
“There is a duty to provide reasonable protection. Here, Pinelake had notice that Wanda Stewart feared her husband would come to Pinelake. We believe we have met the burden on all four elements to deny the motion.”
Evans asked why all the people who dealt with Stewart during the two weeks Robert and Wanda Stewart had been separated had no concern.
“That conversation between friends took place over two weeks before,” Evans said. “He was held to be nonviolent by a medical professional two days before.”
After the arguments, but before he concluded for the day, Cromer looked over at the rows of seats occupied by family members.
“Awful case,” he said. “I know this was a tragic event that occurred to you and in this county. I am sorry for your loss.”
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by email at email@example.com.
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