Nursing home chief acquitted in patients' hurricane deaths
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A judge acquitted on Friday a Florida nursing home administrator accused of causing the overheating deaths of nine patients after Hurricane Irma in 2017, saying that his employees had provided care and prosecutors had not proven he should have known their lives were in danger.
Circuit Judge John J. Murphy III dismissed the charges against Jorge Carballo during the third week of his trial, days before it was expected to go to jury. He had faced nine counts of manslaughter, which could have sent him to prison for up to 15 years.
Carballo, 65, was operating the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in September 2017 when the storm knocked out power to the 150-bed facility’s air conditioning. Temperatures rose inside the building over two-plus days before the patients started dying.
Carballo's attorney David Frankel had argued that prosecutors had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their client had acted with reckless disregard for human life or had demonstrated conscious indifference to his patients' safety, two necessary components for conviction.
Prosecutors during their case had “failed to present any substantial proof ... to establish that the conditions at the nursing home from Sunday September 10th until the early morning hours of the 13th were such that it was foreseeable to the Defendant that the residents were in danger of death or great bodily harm,” Frankel argued in his motion for dismissal.
Murphy agreed, saying there is “undisputed evidence” that Carballo's employees had tried to provide care to the patients. Judges have the ability to unilaterally acquit defendants if they believe prosecutors haven't met their burden of proof.
The Broward County State Attorney's Office said they will file a motion on Monday requesting that Murphy reconsider his decision. Among their arguments was that Carballo failed to order the patients evacuated to Memorial Regional Hospital, a large facility directly across the street that still had its air conditioning.
The deceased patients, ranging in age from 57 to 99, had body temperatures of up to 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius), paramedics reported.
A state report said that before the storm hit on Sept. 10, 2017, Carballo and his staff made appropriate preparations. They purchased extra food and water and fuel for the generator.
Administrators also participated in statewide conference calls with regulators, including one where then-Gov. Rick Scott said nursing homes should call his cellphone for help.
After the air conditioner failed, Carballo and his facility manager contacted Florida Power & Light seeking restoration. When that didn’t work, they called Scott’s cellphone and county and city officials. No help came.
Fire officials, responding to the deaths, ordered the facility evacuated on the morning of Sept. 13. A few hours later, FPL arrived to make the repair, which took less than 30 minutes.
The facility never reopened.