$1.5M settlement in death of Rock Hill assisted-living resident

A $1.5 million settlement has been reached in the case of a Rock Hill assisted-living resident who was smothered to death by an employee in 2011 – setting off criminal and civil actions alleging elder abuse and staff failures.

Pauline Cook, 82, was found dead in her room at an assisted-living facility at Park Pointe Village – a retirement community owned by ACTS Retirement-Life Communities.

The village on Chesbrough Boulevard was purchased by Pennsylvania-based ACTS in 2005 and includes various options including assisted-living and skilled nursing facilities. Cook was a resident of Oakbridge Terrace, an assisted-living sector that houses semi-independent adults.

Settlement terms were kept confidential, but records filed with the York County Probate Court show the 2012 civil case alleging Cook’s wrongful death was settled for $1.5 million in April and filed with officials on May 27.

Michael Smith, a spokesperson for Park Pointe Village, declined to comment, but confirmed the matter was resolved.

“Park Pointe has always taken significant security measures within the community,” said Smith. He added that staff are committed to ensuring safeguards are met. No specifics were provided on whether the incident prompted policy changes at the community.

In an email to the Herald on Tuesday, Smith added: “We are (a) close-knit community still healing from this senseless tragedy and the loss of one of our beloved residents. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Cook family.”

Braquette Wykina Walton confessed to killing Cook in 2012 after she stole several checks from Cook, withdrawing $1,200. Cook notified staff about the fraud in November 2011 after finding checks made out to Walton.

Walton was alerted of criminal accusations against her by another employee and later smothered Cook in her sleep, beating her and dragging her to a shower.

According to documents, the shower was kept running and Cook’s clothes were laid out on a bed to cover up the crime. Blood-soaked linens were disposed of by Walton.

The incident was one of several that prompted the York County Coroner’s Office to change its procedures. Coroner Sabrina Gast said that prior to 2011, the office did not investigate all deaths at nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

“Had our investigator not gone out that day it would have gotten missed,” said Gast of the Cook case. “She probably would have gotten away with it.”

Cook, born in North Carolina, was a Clover High School graduate and received a degree from Evans Business College in Concord, N.C. Cook and her husband, Franklin, worked at the Bowling Green Spinning Mill for years before she worked as a secretary with the Gaston Country Club in Gaston County, N.C.

“She worked hard for what she had and earned every little bit of what she had,” said nephew Josh Welch and a detective with the Rock Hill Police Department. Welch described Cook as “kind hearted” and “cheerful.”

The Cooks became Park Pointe Village residents in 1998. Following her husband’s death, Cook moved to Oakbridge Terrace in July 2011 to prevent falls.

Two employees with Park Pointe Village were named in the suit for failing to secure Cook’s safety – Neva Lattimer, Walton’s supervisor, and Marvin Lawrence, a chef employed with the community. Lawrence notified Walton of the pending investigation against her.

The complaint states that “Lattimer chose to take no immediate action against Walton” including changing her work schedule, preventing her from entering the premises, or alerting staff.

Walton used an electronic key card to access the community, killing Walton on Nov. 12, 2011. The complaint alleges Park Pointe Village failed to protect Cook from “foreseeable criminal acts,” provide adequate security measures and prevent Walton from gaining access to Cook.

The village website says it offers “the most secure contract a continuing care retirement community can offer, assuring residents physical and financial security throughout their retirement years.”

Residents pay an initial entry fee and monthly payments to the community. Cook’s residential contract was cited in case documents. According to the contract, she paid an initial fee of $78,400 and a monthly rate of $1,313.

Three-quarters of the settlement will go toward Cook’s surviving daughter – her legal heir. The remaining quarter covers a combination of attorney’s fee and the rest of Cook’s remaining estate.