Saturday, October 24, 2009

Elderly wheelchair user in Florida may have starved to death because she couldn't get help

From the Palm Beach Post:

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — An elderly, wheelchair-bound woman found dead this week in her house may have died of thirst or starvation in her own bedroom after her partner passed away suddenly, leaving her unable to move or call for help.

Police removed the deceased couple - Sophie Meglino, 83, and Carmine Montanaro, 51 - Oct. 20 from their small house on Hampton Road in West Palm Beach after a neighbor and a family friend found their bodies. They had not been seen since Oct. 11.

Family members and a neighbor who knew the couple have concluded that Montanaro died first, leaving Meglino alone and unable to feed herself or leave her bedroom, possibly for days. They believe she may have died of dehydration, said Daniel D'Esposito, a neighbor who was close to the couple and discovered their bodies.

An investigator for the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office said the condition of the two bodies appeared to support that theory, although he cautioned that autopsy results were still incomplete and the exact circumstances of their deaths were not known.

Authorities called the deaths extremely unusual, saying they underscored the need for families to maintain close contact with elderly and frail relatives.

Both had been in poor health, officials say. Meglino could not walk, Montanaro took her around in a wheelchair and acted as her caretaker.

"He was on pain medication and she was bed-ridden, so she couldn't get up," said Chase Scott, a spokesman for the West Palm Beach Police Department. "If something happened to him, she was stuck in bed."

Despite their age difference, Montanaro and Meglino had lived together as common-law husband and wife for decades, D'Esposito said.

They moved to West Palm Beach from Long Island, N.Y. in 2005 and bought the home together at 844 Hampton Road. Montanaro, who had worked as a carpenter, would occasionally take Meglino to appointments and came and went every day running errands.

But days went by without the car moving from their driveway. After more than a week, D'Esposito called a family friend Tuesday who had a key to the house.

Inside they discovered Montanaro on a sofa in the living room and Meglino in the bedroom, both long dead.