Illegal Physical Restraint Cited in Suffocation Death of Autistic Teen

Posted on Apr 23, 2007

Jonathan Carey was headed to a mall to do some shopping but never made it there. In fact, he barely made it home alive. Minutes after arriving back at his residence, he was rushed by paramedics to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Today, a mother and father mourn the passing of their 13-year-old autistic son who stopped breathing after a physical restraint was applied by an employee aide in a state-owned van.

Mike and Lisa Carey were told by police their son died from physical restraint applied by the state employee while a fellow state worker obtained cash from an ATM. Both employees from the OD Heck Developmental Center in Niskayuna, NY were charged with manslaughter. They were jailed and lost their state jobs at the Heck Center. Conviction on a manslaughter charge brings a 15-year state prison sentence.

During this two-hour “shopping” trip, the van stopped at an ATM, video rental store, and convenience mart. But Carey and a fellow resident passenger never left the van.

According to Colonie Police Chief Stephen Heider, “The 13-year-old succumbed to what we allege were improper and wrongful holds placed on him. There is a potential that this person could have been saved. Those [employees] could have sought help or provided assistance.”

Instead, they drove to one of their homes in Schenectady to drop off the video before returning to the Heck Center.

Niskayuna Police, the first respondents at the Heck Center, reported Carey had been suffocated. The report said the other resident passenger described what happened in the van during the two-hour excursion. Records verify neither employee sought immediate medical attention or called 911 from the van but waited until they returned to the Heck Center before summoning help

At this point, the Careys’ only consolation besides a wrongful death suit is pursuing legislation that would enable parents to gain more control over their institutionalized child. Sadly, this wasn’t the only battle the family fought with the state. In the fall of 2005, the Careys sued in state Supreme Court, claiming the state violated their child’s right to safety and nourishment.

On an impromptu visit to see Jonathan at the Anderson School, a facility for autistic children in Staatsburg, the father found his son lying in bed, bruised, and naked on his urine-soaked sheets. Jonathan had been denied meals for weeks as behavior modification therapy for his compulsion to remove his clothing. In its findings, the state detailed another case of food deprivation at the same school in Dutchess County, two hours from the Heck Center in Schenectady.

A senator is seeking state hearings to pass legislation related to the Carey case. By introducing a bill, senators hope parents will soon be able to access their children’s medical records at state facilities. For now, families are prohibited by mental health privacy laws from obtaining such records.

Ben Golden, legislative director of the parent-founded advocacy group, New York State Association for Retarded Children, said it’s important to empower parents who carry a lifelong responsibility of care for their disabled children.