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Families claim Carthage nursing home knew of potential attack

Posted July 11, 2011

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— Administrators at a Carthage nursing home where eight people were killed in a shooting rampage knew there was a threat but did nothing to secure the facility, according to a civil lawsuit filed against the nursing home on behalf of the families of four people killed during the March 29, 2009, shooting.

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of Robert Kenneth Stewart who authorities say shot and killed eight people and wounded three others, including a police officer, at Pinelake Health and Rehab.

Stewart's estranged wife, Wanda Stewart, worked at the facility as a nursing assistant. She told WRAL News that she thinks he was gunning for her because she had left him weeks before the shooting.

According to the civil suit filed by the estates of Louise DeKler, John Goldston, Margaret Johnson and Lillian Dunn, Wanda Stewart told Pinelake Health administrators that "she believed an attack by Robert Stewart upon her was imminent, and could likely occur on the date of the incident," while she was working.

The lawsuit adds that Wanda Stewart made the facility aware that she believed Robert Stewart might attempt to kill or seriously injure her while noting that he had had firearms and was in an "unstable mental state or mentally ill."

"We're very confident that she told a number of employees that her husband had pulled a gun on her the week before," said attorney Mark McGrath, who is representing the families in the lawsuit. 

On the day of the attack, Wanda Stewart was assigned to the Alzheimer's special care unit, despite the fact that it was not her usual assignment and that she did not possess the specialized training required of those working in the units as required by law, according to the lawsuit.

Unlike the rest of the facility, the Alzheimer’s unit is locked 24 hours a day and is accessible only by entering a passcode on an electrical access key panel. The rest of the facility was left "unlocked an readily accessible by anyone desiring to enter the facility," according to the lawsuit.

"We don't think it is any coincidence that on this particular date she was working in the locked Alzheimer's unit, which was not her usual station," McGrath said. 

Robert Stewart arrived at the facility shortly before 10 a.m. and shot visitor Michael Lee Cotten in the parking lot, the lawsuit claims. Cotten, who was injured in his left shoulder, escaped and ran inside the facility to warn residents and staff of the gunman. Robert Stewart stayed outside and fired several shots at his estranged wife's vehicle, breaking two windows.

Despite the gunshots in the parking lot and Cotten's warning, the lawsuit alleges that the nursing home "failed to take any action to secure the facility or protect residents" from the threat posed by Robert Stewart.

Pinelake Health & Rehab Families file civil suit in Carthage nursing shooting

The shooting rampage went on for four minutes, before Carthage police officer, Justin Garner, shot Stewart in the chest, according to authorities.

The lawsuit claims Pinelake Health and Rehab was negligent, saying administrators did not take proper safety measures to protect residents from a foreseeable attack.

Wanda Stewart is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which claims she was negligent for not warning residents and their families of the threat posed by her estranged husband, among other things.

The lawsuit, which was filed March 18, seeks $10,000 in damages to cover pain and suffering, medical and funeral expenses and further damages.

Administrators at Pinelake would not comment Monday citing pending litigation. 

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Robert Stewart.

About 750 citizens from Stanly County were summoned to appear at the courthouse in Albemarle on Monday for jury selection, which could take up to four weeks. Superior Court Judge James Webb ruled that potential jurors would come from Stanly and not Moore County because of the extensive coverage the shootings received.

The trial itself will be held in Moore County.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • ncguy Jul 12, 2011

    it will be thrown out...

    while I feel for the family the insurance comapny for the nursing should not pay them off.

    This is the type of lawsuits that raise everybody elses insurance.

    If the family's want restitution go after the perps money

  • nurse1703 Jul 12, 2011

    to grashopper. Gun laws are for the honest people not criminals. Just look at other countries with strict gun laws, there violent crime rates failed to drop. Get a grip on reality. If you want to prevent crimes like these beef up law enforcment to enforce the laws already here and make the penalties stiffer and judment quicker.

  • Lightfoot3 Jul 12, 2011

    The ONLY person to blame and that has any liability is the Robert Kenneth Stewart. The nursing home knew of NO threats against others, only the possible one against the wife. The wife knew of NO threats against others, only possibly herself. They couldn't anticipate that he would attack strangers. They aren't liable for his actions. Greedy lawyers and greedy families need to look elsewhere for blame.

  • CraftyMo Jul 11, 2011

    to grasshopperrtp2
    In a situation like this I don't think it matters about a gun carry permit. Someone like this homicidal tyrant could care less about the laws ya think? Permit or not he was going to take his rage out on innocent people, including his estranged wife.

    Sorry to the families for their loss and to those that were witnesses to the event. I unfortunately saw Wendell Williams kill innocent victims in the Chapel Hill shooting rampage. He waved myself and another woman down, he was shooting at men. It definitely makes you look at things a lot differently after such a tragedy. They are all in my prayers, including Wanda Stewart who is also a victim in this terrible incident.

  • pedsRN Jul 11, 2011

    Grasshopperrtp2:If N.C. had a no carry permit law,this guy would have been stopped in the lobby saving most of the lost lives.Law enforcement was 4 minutes away when seconds counted.Its time to change gun laws so more lives can be saved during events like this.

    Many nursing homes do not have a receptionist in the lobby & if they do, that person is not armed. At a Durham Rehab center, I came & went for 3+ weeks. I was never stopped by a receptionist at the desk. Nursing homes generally don't have armed guards.
    The nursing home in Carthage could have secured the facility as it would after visiting hours.

  • affirmativediversity Jul 11, 2011

    bigal02282...so what you are saying is ALL victims of stalking and domestic abuse should retreat from the world, stop making a living and generally wait quietly until either they are murdered or their predator forgets about them.

    Oh and employers should help them with this plan by through public humiliation (telling everyone their private business), proactively shunning them (not scheduling them to work) and further encouraging their isolation by barring them from their facilities.

  • UrMom3040 Jul 11, 2011

    I agree with Relic. She told her work that she suspected danger, what else could she have done? It also sounds like the facility moved her to where they thought she would be safe. I don't believe anyone could have seen this coming. It is a tragedy and I feel sorry for the families.

  • grasshopperrtp2 Jul 11, 2011

    If N.C. had a no carry permit law,this guy would have been stopped in the lobby saving most of the lost lives.Law enforcement was 4 minutes away when seconds counted.Its time to change gun laws so more lives can be saved during events like this.

  • Doctor Dataclerk Jul 11, 2011

    Take two, The Green Mile.

  • davido Jul 11, 2011

    This was a tragedy for sure, but in only 4 minutes officer Garner stopped this guy. I am sure this saved many lives.

    Were the staff negligent? It's pretty difficult to judge "imminent danger", especially to the point of civil liability. What it boils down to is: were there established procedures in place and were they followed?