Charges dropped against 3 Florida nursing home workers in Hurricane Irma-related deaths

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Prosecutors in South Florida on Thursday dropped manslaughter charges against three nursing home employees who were present when 12 patients died from overheating five years ago after power was knocked out from the facility in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

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The Broward County State Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against Althia Meggie, Sergo Colin and Tamika Miller, who worked at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Colin, who was the facility’s supervising nurse, and duty nurses Meggie and Miller will testify against the center’s administrator, Jorge Caballo, when his scheduled trial begins next month, according to the newspaper. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Oct. 18.

The group was charged after the patients died due to the facility’s air conditioning system losing power amid sweltering heat three days after Hurricane Irma hit the southern tip of Florida in September 2017, WPLG-TV reported. The Category 4 storm knocked out a transformer linking the main air-conditioning unit to a power grid at the nursing home, according to the television station.

The staff was criticized for not taking the facility’s patients to a hospital across the street that still had air conditioning, The Associated Press reported.

Over the next few days, some workers brought in portable air conditioners and fans, but it was not enough, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Eight residents died on Sept. 12-13, and six other people died over the next few weeks. Some of the victims had body temperatures that rose to nearly 108 degrees.

Twelve of the deaths were attributed to the nursing home’s failure to adequately respond to Irma, according to the newspaper.

Caballo’s attorney is accusing prosecutors of ethical misconduct and bad faith for pursuing a case they “know they cannot win,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“I’ve never seen a more malicious, misguided prosecution in my life,” attorney James Cobb told State Attorney Harold Pryor in a letter dated Sept. 16, according to the newspaper. Cobb added that lead prosecutor Chris Killoran admitted the evidence did not support a conviction.

“I know we’re going to lose the case,” Killoran said, according to Cobb’s letter and a sworn affidavit he prepared a month ago.

In a response via letter on Thursday obtained by the AP, Pryor said, “I am aware of the challenges ahead; however, we do believe we have a good faith basis to proceed against your client.”

In addition to Cobb, defense lawyers David Frankel, Lawrence Hashish and Ima Ocasio-Yrady had asked for a dismissal of the criminal charges, arguing that the state never specified what the nursing home workers did or failed to do to warrant a manslaughter conviction.