LIVE 5 INVESTIGATES: Vulnerable adult injured in hit-and-run after escape from state-run facility
SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCSC) - A woman with intellectual disabilities in the care of the state is now recovering after she was hit by a car, late at night on a Summerville road.
Now, her family is asking how that was even possible in the first place.
It was sometime between 12:30 and 12:42 a.m. on Oct. 16 when a car hit Mary Williams who was walking along Miles Jamison Road.
Williams, a 42-year-old, has intellectual disabilities and a depressive disorder.
She is a longtime resident, or consumer as they’re referred to, of the Coastal Regional Center, one of five state-run facilities for adults with disabilities run by the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.
P.J. Perea, a spokesman for DDSN, said Williams was able to leave the facility around midnight. A Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office report states dispatch was not called until 12:24 a.m. regarding a consumer that was “walking along the roadway.”
By the time the authorities arrived on the scene, it was already too late.
She was found in bad shape, with fractures in her spine, hips, arms and face requiring multiple surgeries. She was on a ventilator, and her family says she almost didn’t make it.
Williams’ aunt and guardian Ruby Jones didn’t realize how bad it was until she saw her in the hospital.
“That was a difficult moment,” Jones said. “I was hurt, I was disappointed. Surprised would not have been a term that I would have used for what was going on. I was angry.”
The family is thanking God she’s alive and recovering, but she still remains bedridden, unable to do even the smallest task.
“We figured with her being in the Coastal Center. She would have been safe. She would have been protected and this situation should have never happened,” Williams’s cousin, Nicole Nick, said.
Williams was hit about a half-mile from the main entrance and several blocks down the road near Alwyn Boulevard. Ironically, that’s the entrance to the subdivision Nick lives in.
She thinks of her cousin and that night, every time she drives home.
“I was trying to understand, how something like that could have occurred,” Jones said.
When Live 5 Investigates asked to interview an administrator of the department, a spokesman declined. When asked why, they said it was “due to the nature of the incident [the department] felt it best to release a statement rather than conduct an interview.”
For Charleston lawyer and state representative Marvin Pendarvis, this story is a personal one. His big sister, Janae Pendarvis lives at the facility, too.
He tells us she’s been able to escape twice this year.
“Janae could as very well been the young lady that was hit by a car,” he said. “There was one incident where she had gotten so far down Miles Jamison road that a couple saw her, she was in a gown, and it was clear that she was lost... she needed to be driven back.”
An email to management from a former administrator obtained by Live 5 Investigates accuses staff of failing to intervene when another consumer has a “meltdown.”
She asks if staff can work to prevent her from leaving the building in the future, as the resident making it to the road is “becoming an everyday situation” and she worries about this consumer’s safety.
Dozens of pages obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request detail the ongoing problems with staff at the facility, though some were completely redacted, the department citing “privacy” as the reason.
One incident details an altercation between staff and a consumer in January 2022, where the consumer reportedly pushed, grabbed and pulled their hair and eventually put a staff member “in a chokehold.”
Management formally scolded one staff member who stood aggressively with “balled up fists” at the consumer, and another staff member left the campus during this fight for “personal business.”
Both were given a one-day suspension.
Another employee was suspended for one day for “failure to report an allegation of abuse” for an unknown incident.
“My mom has expressed these same concerns time and time and time again. We always talk about, they seem to be understaffed [and] the staff that they do have, they don’t seem to be equipped to handle the patients that are there,” Pendarvis said.
Over the Summer, SLED charged three former workers with “abuse of a vulnerable adult.”
Jones says her niece was the victim in that case, having been informed by SLED via phone.
“Of course, she always said things but because of her illness, sometimes they were kind of overlooked because... it’s not always accurate,” Jones said.
The agency reports surveillance video showed them hitting and kicking her, one watching it all happen. Williams reportedly received “minor injuries” at the time.
“I had no idea,” Jones said. “I really feel kind of hurt that she was not better protected.”
For these families, their hands are tied. Jones is unable to provide the full-time care that her niece requires access to. It’s a similar story for Pendarvis.
“The reality is there aren’t many facilities that are able to handle people with special needs and disabilities to the degree that my sister has them,” Pendarvis said.
Live 5 Investigates has previously reported concerns from staff members about understaffing, long shifts and little pay.
A year-long state audit of the department has been completed, at state Senator Katrina Shealy’s request.
She points out this is step one to finding a solution, for the hundreds of vulnerable people and their families who rely on the state.
“You can’t fix something if you don’t know what the problems are,” Sen. Shealy said.
It’s not scheduled to be published until early next year.
“The goal is to correct the problems, streamline the problems and make the agency more accountable,” she added.
As for Williams, her aunt now visits nearly every day, sometimes three times a day, to help bathe and feed her at the nursing home she’s recovering at.
Though where she will now call home is uncertain, her family is sure of one thing, she won’t be returning to the state’s care.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have the confidence that she will be safe at Coastal,” Jones said.
If you have a story or a tip you’d like for us to investigate, you can call our tip line 843-402-5678 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2022 WCSC. All rights reserved.