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Caretaker charged with manslaughter in elderly Cape Girardeau woman's death

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Patton, Mo., woman faces a manslaughter charge after an autopsy revealed that one of her home-health patients had ulcers and bedsores with maggots in the wounds when she died.

(Photo)
Sherrie Gail Coomer
Sherrie Gail Coomer, 53, was charged with second-degree manslaughter Friday in connection to the death of 80-year-old Patricia Joan Langston, according to the Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney's office.

When authorities arrived at Langston's home on Jewel Drive to investigate her Oct. 23 death, foul play was not initially suspected. However, when Coroner John Clifton arrived at the scene, he noticed a strong smell of decomposition and found that she was sitting in a feces-stained diaper, according to a probable-cause statement.

Clifton found several bedsores on the woman's back with maggots, both dead and alive, in the wounds, according to the statement. After the discovery of the bugs, Clifton decided to have an autopsy performed Oct. 25.

Dr. Russell Diediker performed the autopsy and found that Langston died as a result of a sepsis infection in the bedsores. He also discovered skin breakdowns and ulcers on Langston's back, left hip and knee, both heels and a toe on her left foot, according to the probable-cause statement.

Diediker noted that the skin breakdowns and ulcers were a result of prolonged pressure on the skin, "typically from inadequate or insufficient turning or repositioning of the patient," according to the statement.

"It is my medical opinion that this is below the standard of medical care," Diediker wrote before ruling Langston's death a homicide.

Langston had a history of medical problems and had employed Coomer to stay with her 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the probable-cause statement. Coomer lived with Langston and was paid to groom and bathe her, as well as ensure she took her medication and went to doctors' appointments.

Coomer was listed as a special friend in Langston's obituary.

A phone call to Langston's son, Terry Narsh of Festus, Mo., was not answered Friday afternoon.

Confined to chair

While being interviewed by authorities, Coomer said Langston had been confined to a reclining chair in her living room since August because she was unable to stand, according to the probable-cause statement. Langston had grown incontinent in August. When Langston would have a bowel movement, Coomer would lean her forward roughly eight inches from the back of the chair and clean the top of her back down to her belt line, according to the probable-cause statement.

Coomer would also lift Langston's legs as high as she could and clean them to the best of her abilities, according to the statement. Coomer told authorities that she was never able to clean Langston's buttocks.

Cooper said she could see the top of Langston's back but denied seeing any of the skin breakdowns or bed sores discovered during the autopsy. During the autopsy, Diediker also found a common skin ointment that Coomer had applied to Langston. The ointment was inches from the area of raw skin, according to the probable-cause statement.

When asked how she did not notice the raw skin when applying the ointment, Coomer did not have an answer for investigators.

Coomer told investigators she never noticed bedsores on Langston, but when asked why she was not more thorough in checking for them, she did not have an answer, according to the probable-cause statement.

Investigators asked Coomer who was responsible for the condition of Langston's body at the time of her death, and Coomer said she was, according to the statement.

Three-month probe

Cape Girardeau police investigated Langston's death for three months before arresting Coomer. If convicted, Coomer faces up to four years in prison.

Coomer has been involved with home health care for more than 30 years, according to court records. In 2007, she started a private home health care business, Gold Leaf Enterprises, with her husband, Harold Coomer, according to the Missouri secretary of state's business database. The business dissolved in 2008.

In December 2008, Gold Leaf Transportation, a taxi service for the elderly created by Coomer, received a $6,000 grant from the Cape Girardeau County Commission's Senior Citizens' Services Fund Board. The commission unanimously approved the grant but only after questioning why the funding was not going to the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority.

In November 2009, Coomer and Cynthia Hickerson, of Thebes, Ill., filed with the secretary of state's office to create Gold Leaf Transportation LLC.

Messages left at Gold Leaf Transportation's Jackson office and Hickerson's home were not immediately returned.

Coomer's bond was set at $5,000. She will be arraigned Tuesday.

psullivan@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

Jewel Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO


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Does Coomer have any actual training in the caretaking field?

It would be hard for one well-trained person to adequately care for a bedfast patient; let alone an untrained one, doing it around the clock.

-- Posted by OlderEagle on Sat, Jan 14, 2012, at 1:04 AM

Why wasn't Registered Nurse coming by there once a week to check up on her? If she was only a Patient Care Attendant, that means she wasn't qualified to treat bedsores of that nature. Or we weren't back then when we were cna's. We reported them and a Registered Nurse would take care of it.

-- Posted by mary70 on Sat, Jan 14, 2012, at 7:58 PM

It doesn't take a RN to treat bedsores, although yes, one should have been coming at least weekly. Mrs. Langston should have been in a hospital bed if she hadn't been able to stand since August. How else can a person be properly turned, bathed and have a clean diaper change, much less inspect the area for bedsores? Definite neglect here. I feel for Mrs. Langston for having to endure that.

-- Posted by Topo_Gigio on Sun, Jan 15, 2012, at 12:57 PM

I think the prosecutor might have overstepped with the manslaughter charges. Maybe the lady could have been charged with neglect, but not manslaughter. Until you've been a caregiver, you have no idea how difficult it is. Some older people don't like anyone else coming to their house. But, did she ever go to the doctor? And, where were all her VHW ladies, neighbors, church friend, and children that she sat in that chair and got bed sores so bad. Did she have anyone who cared except the caregiver? I called a social service agency last year on a case and nothing was done . . . but this was a well to-do family and they turned their heads. There is a lot that needs to be done in the health care field taking care of the elderly. Someone please care for these people.

-- Posted by Sunday on Sun, Jan 15, 2012, at 3:06 PM

I didn't know Mrs. Langston that well, but knew her from when she was employed at Orshlen's. She was a very nice lady and didn't deserve to be neglected like that. And yes, where were her friends and children during her final days? It just makes me sick to think of what she went through.

-- Posted by junebug50 on Sun, Jan 15, 2012, at 9:53 PM

I feel there is more to this...we all know when we have loved ones being cared for who cannot care for themselves we have to check on them DAILY...even in the best of nursing homes...sounds like Mrs. Langston should have been in a different facility with the proper care...I think there was more to be done than this caregiver could do. Where were her children? This didn't happen over night...and why did it take so long to charge Mrs. Coomer? There may have been some neglect but sounds like the family is looking for someone to blame for their lack of responsibility.

-- Posted by Agnes on Mon, Jan 16, 2012, at 8:46 AM

"Coomer has been involved with home health care for more than 30 years"

Qualifications?

-- Posted by chocolate thread on Mon, Jan 16, 2012, at 9:03 AM


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