Left In a Van, Asphyxiated: Two Disabled NYC Men Died Tragically (VIDEO)


Disability benefits in the form of social security payments will still be paid on schedule now that a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling was signed on Tuesday, says Disability Scoop. While Medicaid and other entitlement programs have so far been spared from cuts, they could face more as the “Super Committee” devises a plan to cut $1.5 trillion by the end of the year.

The death of two men with disabilities, one autistic and the other with developmental disabilities, in New York underscore the serious challenges in providing long-term care. The recent revelation that the directors of a New York nonprofit, YAI Network, had been using Medicaid funds not only for their high salaries, but for college tuition and the purchase of a Greenwich Village apartment for one  of their children, more than suggests the ongoing need for oversight of funds and appropriate training and support of staff.

On Tuesday, 48-year-old Thomas Eason was found in the rear seat of a van on a busy street in East Harlem. According to the New York Times, he was found “collapsed and unresponsive in the last row of seats” around 3:30 pm. The temperature outside the van was about 90 degrees and Eason had been in the van since the late morning. He lived in a 14-bed group home on East Fifth Street run by AHRC New York City, a nonprofit for developmentally disabled adults that contracts with New York state. The New York Times says that AHRC is “one of the largest and oldest nonprofit providers of services to developmentally disabled people in the state,” with an annual revenue exceeding $200 million. AHRC runs group homes with nearly 600 beds.

Eason was transported daily to a day program on Lexington Avenue, near 125th Street. Between 9:00 am and 10:00 am, the other people in the van were brought into the program; why Eason was left behind will be investigated by the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons With Disabilities, a watchdog group. The police will also investigate if leaving him in the van constitutes a crime. Two weeks ago, a bus driver and aide were fired from their jobs and arrested after they left a 4-year-old with disabilities on a Jersey City school bus, as record-setting heat plagued the East Coast.

Eason is described as “nonverbal” and “typically needed assistance walking”; he was known for his “calm, mostly passive personality.” This suggests that he was not able to communicate that he’d been left behind in the van, and that he needed assistance to get out of it. Given that he had “spent much of his life” in AHRC’s programs, one would think that staff at the agency knew about such needs. Didn’t anyone notice he was missing from his day program?

The death by asphyxiation of an autistic man in another New York facility is another wake-up call about training and supervision of staff. 27-year-old Jawara Henry died while being restrained by three workers at the South Beach Psychiatric Center on Staten Island.

On December 4, Henry, who had “no history of violent outbursts, became unruly and bit two other patients” says the New York Times. According to SILive.com, Henry had also bitten staff including supervisor Erik Stanley, who “restrained him by putting one arm behind his neck, another in front of his neck, forcing him flat on his stomach, and getting on top of him,” while waiting for a doctor’s authorization to medicate Henry. Henry stopped breathing and died; coroners ruled “asphyxiation due to chest and neck compression” as the cause of his death. An investigation has revealed that Stanley “did not follow protocol nor use proper techniques while trying to restrain Henry.” The New York Times says that Stanley faces “charges of criminally negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person.”

The video below shows Henry’s mother, Sharon Rowe with her lawyer Gary Douglas speaking about her son’s death.


According to SILive.com, Henry had lived at home until last year, when he was placed in a Multiple Disabilities Unit after “becoming too aggressive to handle.” He had home visits on Sundays and his mother became concerned about what looked like injuries that staff workers “explained away”:

“First there was a burn mark on his leg, and they told me that it was some type of skin thing, but to me it looked like a burn,” Ms. Rowe said. “The next time, he came home with a chop over his forehead.”

At one point while speaking to reporters, Ms. Rowe became overcome with emotion and had to leave the room.

“Each time she expressed concern, they reassured her that he was in the best of hands,” said attorney Gary J. Douglas. “There’s no question that this was systematic. … It’s about an attitude of abuse and neglect, and a pervasive attitude of neglect.

“There was a pattern of abuse with Jawara,” Douglas said.

It does seem that Henry had a history of aggression, perhaps due — as is the case with my own 14-year-old son — his struggles to communicate. On SILive.com, Henry’s stepfather, Courtney Rowe, says that he was nonverbal.

Both Eason and Rowe died while in the care of state facilities, where protocols for their safety were not followed. Their deaths are tragedies and they shouldn’t have happened.

Reading about Eason and Rowe is why I recently told a friend, I sure wish I could live forever. That of course being impossible, I know I’ve got to spend every day I have making sure Charlie will be safe and cared for when my husband and I are no longer around to be squeaky wheels advocating for his needs.

Related Care2 Coverage

Basket Holds & Take Downs: Restraints in Public Schools Need More Scrutiny

Medicaid Fraud at NY Nonprofit For Developmentally Disabled

Autistic Man Left in Locked Van and Dies: You Call This Care?

Boy With Disabilities Forgotten on School Bus: Why Didn’t Someone Ask Where He Was?

Photo by daysofthundr46


Dawn F.
Dawn F5 years ago


Ailsa Porter
Ailsa Porter5 years ago

Very sad incidents!

Christine S.

Why aren't there protocols to ensure that every one who got on the van also got off? After even one person dies in such a manner, I would think every single facility in the country would have implemented some kind of measure to prevent this! Of course, people with pools still act surprised when small children fall in the pool and drown ("Duhhh, I didn't think she would climb the stairs to the pool..".) Too many stupid people in jobs that require thinking.....

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

I'm sure the Repricklitans will just see this as a cost reducing measure. Vote Republican and doom your own country.

Margaret C.
Margaret C6 years ago

Once an for all, leave no one in a vehicle who cannot help themselves without assistance. No animals, children/babies, mentally or physically challenged. I don't care how much you make for a living, no one forced you to do the job, but you took it. So, DO IT RIGHT!!! No one forces women who have babies to have them or continue a pregnacy, be responsible! No one told you to get cat or dog, or whatever, so take care of it. What's the problem? I am so frustrated with people DECIDING to be reckless, self-centered and stupid!!!!!

Marie Therese H.
Marie Therese H6 years ago

It seems to me that these jobs are open to almost anyone. And it does not pay much so one can't expect much from these employees. Only specially trained people should have the care of poor helpless individuals.

Jo Little
jo L6 years ago

I think the biggest problem is these facilities are understaffed, and staff are underpaid. When too few support staff are left to care for too many individuals on a regular basis, its a recipe for disaster.

Mara C.
Past Member 6 years ago

How sad. These deaths should not have happened.

Alicia N.
Alicia N6 years ago

sadly noted............... R. I. P.........................

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

As the US becomes more impoverished- physically, economically, mentally, culturally- expect more and more of this.