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Alzheimer's patient beats roommate

The man, 92, beats a fellow patient with a cane before he is shot with a Taser. Deputies don't expect to press charges.

By THOMAS LAKE
Published April 7, 2006


HUDSON - Yvonne Holcombe stood firm as night fell on her husband's mind. She busied his hands with household tasks. She watched as he wandered the back yard, gathering twigs. She coaxed him back to bed when he rose to hunt for phantom intruders.

Then she had brain surgery for a blood clot, she said, and she came out too weak to chase him. So she sent him to a group home where she thought he'd be safe.

He was, until the deputy shot him with a Taser. It was his roommate who should have been worried.

Authorities say Olin Holcombe, a 92-year-old retired chiropractor with no apparent history of violence, beat a fellow patient at the West Pasco Retirement Center in Hudson early Thursday during a midnight rampage with a silver-colored cane.

The victim, 81-year-old Roland Casanova, was in critical condition at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point on Thursday afternoon. His attacker has advancing Alzheimer's.

It began with a thud around 12:15 a.m. Maria Faust, a nurse at the 18-bed assisted living facility, told sheriff's deputies that she heard a noise down the hall and ran to investigate. She saw Casanova on the floor, she said, trying to shield himself as Holcombe pummeled him with the cane. He swung it at her when she tried to step in, so she fled to call 911.

It appears the beating continued intermittently for the next seven minutes, until Pasco sheriff's Deputy David Riffe arrived. Riffe wrote in his report that he found the victim lying on the floor, swollen and covered in blood, and that he saw Holcombe strike Casanova once more as he entered the room.

Riffe told Holcombe to drop the cane.

Holcombe swung it at him.

Riffe drew the Taser and took aim, warning he would shoot if Holcombe didn't stand down.

Holcombe swung again.

Riffe fired twin jolts of electricity into Holcombe's chest, knocking him to the floor.

"Wow," Holcombe said, according to the deputy. "That was smarts."

Reinforcements arrived to help handcuff Holcombe. But instead of jail, they took him to the hospital. Sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said he probably will not be charged with a crime because it seems he did not know what he was doing.

Tobin defended Riffe's decision to use the Taser, saying it fit department policy that allows incapacitating force on aggressive suspects. But Yvonne Holcombe wondered why a young, strong officer couldn't disarm her husband by hand.

"A man almost 93 years old, 160 pounds," she said, "you can't take a cane away from him?"

Holcombe was transferred in stable condition Thursday to the behavioral health unit at Community Hospital in New Port Richey, his wife said. The beating's cause remains a mystery, though it's possible Holcombe had a severe Alzheimer's-related reaction to unfamiliar surroundings. He was institutionalized just five days before the incident.

"He probably didn't recognize where he was," said Lisa Milne, regional program director for the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. "His roommate, for all he knows, could be breaking into his home."

And it's unlikely that Casanova would have known how to defuse the paranoia like Holcombe's wife once did.

"You can't force him," Yvonne Holcombe said. "He would get a little more indignant, and I would say, "There's no one here, it's three o'clock in the morning, and if they come, we'll see 'em in the morning.' And he'd go back to bed for me."

--Thomas Lake covers law enforcement in Pasco County. He can be reached at 727 869-6245. His e-mail address is tlake@sptimes.com

[Last modified April 7, 2006, 01:32:03]


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