Caregiver charged with manslaughter

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES -- A Port Angeles caregiver has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and first-degree criminal mistreatment after a 95-year-old man she was caring for died of gangrene in July.

Laurie M. Morehead, 54, pleaded not guilty to the charges in Clallam County Superior Court on Thursday.

A one-week trial is scheduled to start Feb. 7, with a pre-trial hearing set for Jan. 14.

First-degree manslaughter is a Class A felony that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Court documents show that Morehead, a state-registered nursing assistant since 2003 who worked as an independent caregiver, was caring for Robert Phelps in her Port Angeles residence when Phelps fell and suffered a wound to his left elbow July 7.

Phelps was taken to Olympic Medical Center on July 10. He had emergency surgery on the wound.

Clallam County sheriff's deputies said the surgeon noted the wound had been "neglected for some days prior to Mr. Phelps being brought to OMC and that it was badly infected."

The surgeon found "dead tissue, dirt, gravel, grass and other debris within the wound," deputies said.

Phelps died at OMC on July 14.

The surgeon said it was her belief the infection led to Phelps' organ system and kidney failure, court records show.

The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy concluded Phelps died of "left elbow necrotizing fasciitis/gas gangrene due to a laceration and imbedded foreign body due to a ground level fall," according to the certification for probable cause.

Morehead told investigators that Phelps was paying her for wound care, physical therapy, cooking meals, shopping and other personal care.

According to court documents, a witness told investigators Phelps asked Morehead if he needed to go to a doctor for the wound July 9 and Morehead said no.

Morehead told sheriff's investigators she had been caring for Phelps since January -- five to six days per week -- at his home.

Investigators said Morehead acknowledged the wound looked neglected and said: "I thought I was doing a great job. Obviously, I wasn't," court records show.

Morehead was not affiliated with a home health care agency.

Morehead was charged Dec. 10 and released on her own recognizance with conditions.

She was booked into the Clallam County jail Dec. 15 on investigation of driving under the influence and remained listed on the jail roster for that charge Thursday.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 23. 2010 11:27PM
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