Death And Denial in Washington KOMO 4 News Investigation
Family of Autistic Child RaisingDeath And Denial in Washington KOMO 4 News InvestigationBy Tracy Vedder
There is, in Bremerton, a home to care for some of the most vulnerable among us: young adults with autism. The state-run facility is supposed to be a safe place; a place to live and get treatment.
But a KOMO 4 News exclusive investigation found that, for the first time in its history, four residents at the Frances Haddon Morgan Center have died, and another was raped. This is their story.
Priceless photographs show the faces of children who are loved and adored. They are children with special needs; autistic, developmentally delayed.
Their families turned to the state for help. Through tears, one mother explains the grief of giving her son into the state’s care, “And when I let him go, I let him go because I loved him.”
The parents found a special place, the Frances Haddon Morgan Center in Bremerton. It’s a home-like institution specializing in autism. But for each of these children we looked at, their time at the Morgan Center ended in tragedy.
6 a.m. Saturday, July 2, 2005: Krissy Shannon collapses in the common room at a Morgan Center duplex. Paramedics and Krissy’s family believe the
29 year-old had a heart attack or seizure.
Her father Denny Shannon recalls, “special star that’s been dimmed, except in my heart.”
‘We Had No Idea She Was Sick’
6:30 .a.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, 2005: 27-year-old Jenny Jessup collapses in a bathroom at the Center. She dies of septic shock from a perforated bowel.
“We had no idea that she was even sick,” says Jenny’s sister and guardian Marjorie Aust. “And it was so sudden.”
Both families thought their children died natural deaths. But, six weeks after Krissy Shannon’s death, Pathologist Dr. Emmanuel Lacsina ruled Krissy died of acute drug intoxication.
Dr. Lacsina was Pierce County’s Chief Medical Examiner for 13 years and now performs all of Kitsap County’s autopsies. He says the drug in Krissy’s blood stream is a common, over the counter allergy medication:
“I looked at it and it was high,” says Dr. Lacsina referring to the level of Chlortrimeton in Krissy’s toxicology report. “I looked at it again
– it was high.”
Dr. Lacsina says he’s certain, the allergy drug killed Krissy. “Yes, I am.”
But, at the Morgan Center, all drugs are supposed to be locked up.
Krissy’s dad Denny Shannon fights tears and anger: “I’m just so angry. If the drug intoxication was done intentionally, we need to find out who it is, if it was accidental and somebody left the drugs out unsupervised, we need to find out what the story is here.”
Anita Delight oversees the Morgan Center for the state’s Division of Developmental Disabilities. When asked if the report raises questions in her mind about where Krissy got the drugs she responds, “We have reservations about the interpretation of the information.”
In other words, the state is challenging the pathologist’s report.
Shannon’s response? “I think the state’s having to cover their rear end.”
‘You Don’t Ignore Abdominal Pain’
What about Jenny Jessup? The night before she died, Jenny complained of a stomachache and began vomiting.
Dr. Lacsina says, “to me, abdominal pain is a very serious symptom because many things can happen when somebody has abdominal pain.”
The pathologist reviewed the Morgan Center’s nursing notes. He says less than 12 hours after Jenny started feeling sick, she died of a perforated bowel.
“All of this what we call ‘catastrophic abdominal catastrophe’ can occur so you don’t ignore abdominal – as far as I’m concerned I will not ignore abdominal pain.”
But at the Morgan Center, no one called a doctor or took Jenny to the emergency room or did more than give her Pepto Bismol — until she collapsed.
“And for it to rupture, that is a painful, painful way to die,” says Aust, “and that is how my baby sister died – her intestines blew up.”
Delight responds, “What I know so far leads me to believe that the staff responded appropriately and timely.” But, two weeks after KOMO 4 News requested Krissy and Jenny’s records, the state hired an outside investigator.
Critics insist their deaths are the latest tragedies at a state facility that is disintegrating.
“The center of expertise that the Morgan Center used to be no longer exists,” says a state health care professional who knows the operations at the Morgan Center intimately. He asked us to protect his identity because he fears retaliation.
+ Full report here: