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Care facility cleared by state in death of wandering resident

Two vehicles hit the 74-year-old resident of Sugarmill Manor on Jan. 31 after she stepped with her dog onto U.S. 19.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001


HOMOSASSA -- State regulators have cleared the Sugarmill Manor assisted living facility of wrongdoing in the death of a resident earlier this year.

At about 9:45 p.m. on Jan. 31, resident Velia Sweatman wandered from the facility and onto nearby U.S. 19. Two cars struck her.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration, which monitors nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, conducted a routine investigation to determine whether Sugarmill had violated state or federal laws and regulations.

The inspector, J.A. "Tommy" Castell, reported that staffers looked for Mrs. Sweatman, 74, as soon as they realized she was missing. Exit doors have alarms, but they are not activated until 10 p.m., Castell's report said.

Two aides saw Mrs. Sweatman near the highway with her dog, a pet poodle named Snowball. Mrs. Sweatman was hit when she stepped onto U.S. 19. The dog died the next day.

As part of the inspection, Castell toured Sugarmill Manor, which is just south of Sugarmill Woods on the east side of U.S. 19. The administrator, Laurene Holder, said the staff had not considered Mrs. Sweatman a risk to wander.

The report also indicates that the staff at two other assisted-living facilities -- Countryside Manor and the Cottages of Gentle Breeze -- did not consider Mrs. Sweatman a risk to wander when she lived there. Countryside, which now is closed, has the same owner as Sugarmill.

Mrs. Sweatman stepped into the path of a Chevrolet Cavalier driven by David Gater, a Citrus County sheriff's deputy who was off duty. The Florida Highway Patrol said a second vehicle, a white Dodge or Ford pickup, struck Mrs. Sweatman after the Cavalier.

Mrs. Sweatman had lived at Sugarmill with her husband, Louis, for less than two months.

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