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California Seniors: Home Abandoned Residents During Wildfire

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 28, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Following the horrific accusations regarding a Florida nursing home in the wake of Hurricane Irma, you would hope California facilities would be on high alert during any natural disasters, like, say, a wildfire. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.

"These people were left stranded," attorney Kathryn Stebner told the Los Angeles Times. "They had no keys, no cell service, no walkie-talkies. The three caregivers on hand did not know about any evacuation plan ... and in fact, were waiting for an executive director, who did not show up. How could they have gotten out?"

Nobody There

Stebner is representing four residents from the Oakmont of Villa Capri senior living facility in Santa Rosa, which was destroyed during wildfires that broke out in October. According the suit, Oakmont staff abandoned Elizabeth Budow, Alice Eurotas, Virginia Gunn, and Helen Allen during the fire, along with "other residents in wheelchairs, and other residents with dementia who were physically and cognitively incapable of escaping a burning building without assistance."

The building began to fill with smoke around 12:30 a.m., but staff (of which there were just three to care for over than 70 elderly and disabled residents) allegedly turned off the fire alarms and failed to wake residents to evacuate. Instead, Allen's son found her still in bed at 2 a.m. when he came to check on her. The lawsuit claims:

"The facility had no power and there were no back-up generators in use, nobody had access keys to the Oakmont vans parked at the Facility which could have been used to evacuate the residents, and nobody was in contact with the Executive Director of the Facility during this emergency."

Fraudulent Facility

The lawsuit also describes the "herculean efforts" two women made to ensure that other abandoned residents got out of the building, including using a car hitch to break open a door that locked 14 residents in the dementia care unit. Amazingly, no deaths were reported.

Villa Capri claims its staff was prevented by authorities from evacuating residents during the fire. In a separate lawsuit filed a month before the fires, four residents accused Oakmont alleged residents were found on the ground in the facility, left to sit in their own waste, and suffered unexplained injuries.

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