Patient who killed with cane dies

Olin Holcombe, 93, suffered from Alzheimer's. He snapped one night three months ago at a Hudson ALF and thrashed his roommate to death.

Published July 7, 2006

A wide chasm divides the two legacies of Olin Holcombe. Hard work and reason inhabit one side. On the other are madness and spurting blood.

His wife, Yvonne, remembers him as a chiropractor from Indiana who gave free care to the clergy and the poor.

Jean Casanova remembers him as the Alzheimer's patient who beat her uncle to death.

A sheriff's spokesman said Holcombe died Monday at 93, apparently of natural causes, three months after he took up a metal cane in a Hudson assisted living facility and walloped a fellow Alzheimer's patient beyond recovery.

Roland Casanova, 81, died 16 days later. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office opened a homicide investigation, though prosecution was in doubt because it appeared Holcombe did not understand his actions.

The assault took place just after midnight April 6 at West Pasco Retirement Center, where Holcombe and Casanova were roommates. Although some have speculated that Holcombe confused Casanova with a burglar, the exact cause might be a permanent mystery.

A nurse heard a thud and found Holcombe standing over Casanova, pummeling him with the four-pronged cane. He swung it at her when she tried to intervene, so she called 911.

The beating continued for nearly seven minutes until a sheriff's deputy took Holcombe down with twin jolts from a Taser.

The nurse, Maria Faust, later told the Times she was on her second consecutive double shift that night, having slept only one of the past 48 hours. Casanova's niece decried the fact that Faust was the only one watching the 18-bed facility when Holcombe snapped.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration cited the facility in 2005 for improper record keeping and failure to conduct background checks on some employees. But the agency said staffing levels met standards at the time of the beating, and an investigation of the incident uncovered no wrongdoing on the facility's part.

Afterward, Holcombe's wife took him back home with her even though she was still recovering from brain surgery.

"I'm not afraid to have him home with me," Yvonne Holcombe said at the time "Not at all. I really believe in my wedding vows. In sickness and in health. Till death do you part."

Jean Casanova, the victim's closest surviving relative, was infuriated.

"He should be under lock and key somewhere," she said then, "not at home relaxing and watching TV and eating chocolate candies."

On Thursday, Casanova said this:

"I guess God works in the strangest ways."

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or 727 869-6245.