Apex, N.C. — Wake County authorities say they don't plan to file charges against two employees of an Apex group home after a resident with autism suffered a possible heat stroke when he was left in a van for more than six hours.
Police said Curtis Williams Jr., 35, was among six residents of the home, at 306 N. Mason St., who were taken to a work assignment in Fuquay-Varina Friday morning and that employees did not notice that he did not get out of the van.
They returned to Apex and parked the van for the day. Employees on another shift going to pick up the residents at their job discovered Williams around 3 p.m. and called 911.
Apex Police Capt. Ann Stephens said the employees who found Williams put cold towels on him to reduce his body temperature while they waited for help. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated and released.
"He was very lucky," Stephens said. "It could have been tragic."
Friday's high temperature at Raleigh-Durham International Airport reached 89 degrees.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cars parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures up to 131 degrees when outside temperatures are 80 degrees to 100 degrees.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Latour called the case an "incident of bad judgment" but said it did not warrant criminal charges.
"We looked at it, and technically, there wasn't a crime committed," he said. "Under the state statutes for a group home, to have committed a crime, there would have to be a pattern of neglect and some evidence of injury.
Williams's father, Curtis Williams Sr., said he was disappointed in the prosecutor's decision and doesn't understand how his son, at 6 feet tall, could not have been noticed in the van.
"This is unacceptable," he said. "He was in the van for six-and-a-half hours with no air and no water. It's so horrendous, the horror he went through. I don't know how he survived."
Curtis Williams Sr. said his son has severe autism and no communication skills. Although he is physically capable of getting out of the van, he has to be told what to do. The work assignments, the elder Williams said, are usually menial tasks, and his son has to be directed at every step.
The group home is run by Louisville-based ResCare Inc., which operates group homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in 29 states, including 16 in Wake County.
Sheryl Zerbe, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a statement that the company "deeply regrets" the situation and that it has "extensive controls in place to protect the people we serve."
"We take our responsibility to provide a safe environment for the people who rely on us for their daily living needs seriously," she said. "We do not tolerate any actions that endanger the people we serve."
Zerbe, however, did not say whether the two employees face any disciplinary actions, saying company policy prohibits her from sharing personnel actions.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the Mason Street group home is a six-bed intermediate care facility for people with intellectual disabilities. It was licensed in 1993 and has been successfully re-certified annually.
Health and Human Services spokesman Ricky Diaz said a complaint was filed against the home with the Division of Health Service Regulation in 2008 but that it was unsubstantiated. Another was filed in 2010 because of a medication error, but state officials determined the home successfully put measures in place to prevent it from happening again.
Diaz said the division recently received a new complaint about the home but would not say if it was linked to Williams because he is unable to speak about pending investigations.
"We take every complaint or infraction seriously," he said. "We work closely to see if any rules were broken and work closely with our providers to maintain the safety of the residents."