Father of autistic man who died in overheated van sues care facility and caretaker

By Jon Campisi | Jul 14, 2011

The father of a young man with severe autism who died last summer after being left in a caretaker’s sweltering van is suing the organization that was charged with caring for his son at the time of the man’s death.

Also named in the lawsuit is the woman who was found criminally negligent in Bryan Nevins’ death and is serving time in state prison.

William Nevins, of Oceanside, N.Y., filed the federal lawsuit July 8 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of his son, Bryan, who attended Woods Services in Langhorne, Pa. at the time of his death.

Bryan Nevins was 20 years old at the time of his death, but he reportedly had the mental capacity of a toddler, according to past media reports.

Woods Services, according to the lawsuit, provides residential, housing and educational services, as well as professional healthcare, to individuals with mental disabilities.

In addition to the facility, also named as a defendant in the lawsuit is former Woods employee Stacey Strauss, the woman who was eventually charged with leaving Bryan Nevins in an overheated van last July.

According to the lawsuit, Strauss drove a Woods Services vehicle, which contained Nevins and others, to Sesame Place in Middletown Township, Bucks County on July 24, 2010. The van left Woods Services sometime between 9 a.m. and 9:45 a.m.

While at Sesame Place, the lawsuit contends, Strauss made numerous calls on her personal cell phone “instead of properly supervising her care-dependent clients.”

From there, Strauss took the van to a McDonald’s restaurant, where she continued to make calls and send text messages from her cell phone, the suit states. Also while at the fast food restaurant, Strauss left four care-dependent clients, including Nevins, under the supervision of her co-worker, which goes against protocol for care-dependent individuals, the lawsuit states.

Eventually, the caravan returned to Woods Services, where Strauss dropped off her coworker and his two care-dependent clients, the suit states. Strauss then returned one of her care-dependent clients to his residential facility, but failed to return Nevins to his residential unit.

Because of Nevins’ condition, he would have been unable to get out of the vehicle without staff assistance. Strauss proceeded to leave Nevins inside the van, which had its windows up, during a day when temperatures reached above 90 degrees, the lawsuit states.

Strauss eventually clocked out of work, and Nevins wasn’t discovered in the van until nearly 5:45 p.m., when a nurse who was looking to administer his medicine was told Nevins was away on a field trip, the suit states. By the time he was discovered, Nevins had already passed away due to the extreme temperatures inside the van.

“The negligence of Woods Services and Stacey Krauss … was a substantial factor in causing serious injury and pre-death pain and suffering to Bryan Nevins,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit contains counts of wrongful death, pecuniary loss, funeral expenses and punitive damages.

The suit accuses the defendants of negligence and recklessness in their care and treatment of Bryan Nevins.

“… The treatment of Bryan Nevins by Woods Services and Stacey Strauss was outrageous and oppressive and showed a reckless indifference to the interests of Bryan Nevins,” the suit states.

The plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $150,000.

According to criminal court documents, Strauss, of Philadelphia, was charged by Bucks County, Pa. authorities with neglect of a care-dependent person, involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person.

Strauss pleaded guilty to the various charges against her in March of this year. She received a sentence of two to five years in prison, according to court documents.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-04406-JP.

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