CANTON — A lawsuit has been filed by the family of a man who wandered away from Glenwood Care and Rehabilitation before he was found frozen to death next to a dumpster.
The case filed in Stark County Common Pleas Court last month stems from the 2018 death of 56-year-old Mark Billiter.
Billiter was a patient and resident of the skilled nursing center at 836 34th St. NW in Canton when he wandered away between 7 and 8 p.m. April 15, according to the lawsuit. The facility failed to report the Stark County man as missing to his family or police for nearly 12 hours, the filing says.
He was found dead two days later beside a dumpster at a self-serve gas station on Louisville Street Northeast about 4 miles from the facility.
The civil suit was filed by Billiter’s sister, Janice Nitz. Defendants are Glenwood Care and Rehabilitation Center and Stone Crossing Skilled Care, Glenwood’s statutory agent.
Stacy Starcher, the attorney representing Glenwood, declined to comment on the pending case. The defendants filed a response to the lawsuit in court records Jan. 29.
Attorney Tracey Laslo is representing the plaintiff.
“This is a tragedy that could have been prevented if the facility had followed its own policies and procedures,” Laslo said. “The family is distraught because it was preventable.”
She declined further comment.
The wrongful death lawsuit also alleges corporate negligence, nursing home violations, malice and gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. The complaint seeks more than $25,000 in damages.
According to the court filing, Billiter had suffered from heart-attack induced dementia, which required medical attention and constant supervision in a secured medical treatment facility.
Glenwood failed to adequately supervise and care for Billiter, “allowing a man with severe dementia and a history of attempting to leave the facility to wander out the door unimpeded and then [failed] to report him missing,” the lawsuit says.
Billiter had been a resident there for years. His incapacity was well known to the Glenwood staff, the complaint alleges.
When Billiter wandered out of the secured area, he “was ushered out ... of Glenwood’s facility by an unknown member of [staff] while following another patient’s visitor,” the plaintiff contends in court records.
At 10:12 p.m. April 15, police were called to Market Avenue North and Route 62 to a report of a man walking in dark clothing near the on-ramp, at least two hours after Billiter left the facility, the filing says.
According to Canton police, when officers responded, Billiter hadn’t been reported as missing. Billiter requested a ride from the officers, stating he was trying to get to a family member in Alliance. Police gave him a ride to the 3900 block of Mahoning Avenue, the Canton city limits.
Billiter was gone for nearly 12 hours “when he was initially noted as missing by ... Glenwood at 5 a.m. on April 16,” court records said. The lawsuit notes that Billiter’s family “relentlessly began searching Canton, Alliance and the surrounding areas.”
Shortly after 4 p.m. April 17, a Louisville City Schools bus driver called 911 and said he had seen a body “lying next to a small building” in Nimishillen Township. Authorities responded and Billiter was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to the National Weather Service, on April 15 at 7:51 p.m., the temperature was 55 degrees and on April 16 at 5:51 a.m the temperature was 42 degrees with a wind chill of 35 degrees.
The Stark County Coroner’s Office performed an autopsy and ruled the cause of death to be “environmental [cold] exposure.” The report specifically noted “prolonged exposure to cold environmental elements with wet/insufficient clothing.”
“Had [Billiter] been reported missing soon after he left the facility, he would have been found and safely returned,” the lawsuit contends. “Instead, because of the defendant’s wrongful actions, he slowly froze to death while curled on the ground beside a dumpster.”
Reach Ed Balint at 330-580-8315 and firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ebalintREP