Parents sue state agencies over disabled son's death

By Cara Bailey | Jul 19, 2007

CHARLESTON - The parents of a severely disabled 22-year-old man are suing several state agencies after their son died from choking on a hot dog at a bowling alley.

Gregory and Betty Jo Payne filed a wrongful death suit July 10 in Kanawha Circuit Court against Deaf Education and Advocacy Focus, Braley and Thomas Inc., the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and several other agencies after their son, Craig Allen Payne, died Feb. 12, 2007.

Craig Payne had cerebral palsy and severe developmental disabilities, which required him to be in a wheelchair. He required assistance with his daily needs because he was unable to feed, clothe or change himself. He was a client at the West Sattes Facility of DEAF in Nitro.

Betty Jo Payne claims she had informed the staff at the facility that her son could not eat solid food and had provided them with a food processor for his meals. However, Feb. 12, 2007, members of DEAF and Braley and Thomas Inc. took several clients to a bowling alley.

While at the alley, a hot dog was given to Jermaine Mayfield to give to Craig Payne. Joanna Frey, a member of the staff that normally worked with Payne, cut up the hot dog and told Mayfield to feed it to him one bite at a time. However, Payne began choking on the first bite.

Frey tried to perform the Heimlich maneuver, but was unable to prevent him from choking. A nurse was called and was also unsuccessful.

"Members of the staff them compounded Mr. Payne's medical situation by carrying him approximately 196 feet down the hallway prior to the arrival of paramedics," the suit says.

According to the death certificate, Payne died of asphyxiation and aspiration as a result of his choking on the hot dog.

According to the suit, the DEAF and Braley and Thomas staffs were fully aware of the difficulty Craig Payne had eating solid food. Betty Jo Payne was at a meeting and instructed the staffs on how to feed her son. She also informed them he should be fed in a room alone because he was easily distracted.

Also in the suit, West Virginia Advocates found that the facility was understaffed on the day Payne died, and the person working with him was untrained.

Gregory and Betty Jo Payne seek punitive damages for the estate of their son.

DEAF closed its West Sattes location and its New Horizons program in Boon County in April. About 80 disabled adults have been places in other programs.

Attorney Williams C. Forbes is representing the Paynes. The case has been assigned to Judge Irene Berger.

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