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Family Sues State Over Sister's Choking Death
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 13, 2006

HAMDEN, CONNECTICUT--The family of a woman who choked to death while institution staff members left her alone last June has filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Mental Retardation, the Hartford Courant has reported.

Ruth Hofmann filed the suit, accusing the agency of failing to properly train, evaluate and monitor Southbury Training School staff members who took her sister, Rosemary Hicock, for what was supposed to be a Special Olympics outing.

An attorney representing Hofmann said the staff members -- Kimberly Rivnack, Evelyn Mensah and Barbara Williams -- were not included in the suit because "it's very doubtful" they have assets worth seeking in court.

"The state is responsible for the actions of their employees," said attorney Stephen Jacques.

Investigators say that, instead of going to the Special Olympics event, Rivnack, Mensah, and Williams took two vans carrying Hicock and other institution residents to a Hamden shopping mall. There, Rivnack left Hicock alone and went into a T.J. Maxx "for a long time". Hicock, who was not supposed to be left alone and was not supposed to eat without the food first being cut up, started choking on a hamburger.

Sitting in the other vehicle, Mensah and Williams saw Hicock flailing about in the first van, apparently trying to get their attention as she choked on her food. Instead of trying to rescue Hicock or calling 9-1-1, the two allegedly went into the store to get Rivnack.

By the time they returned, it was too late to revive Hicock.

Last month, Rivnack, 40, and Williams, 46, were arrested and charged with manslaughter. Mensah, 35, was charged with reckless endangerment.

In September, the department fired all three workers.

Southbury Training School, which houses 580 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is currently under a 10-year-old federal court order to improve conditions for its residents.

"I don't want to exaggerate and say this just may be the tip of the iceberg, but it may be," Jacques told the Courant.

"DMR Sued Over Woman's Death" (Hartford Courant)


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