No criminal charges will be brought in the death of an 85-year-old resident who somehow managed to get out of the Maplewood Manor county infirmary the night of Dec. 21.
Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III said Monday that the Ballston Spa Police Department has closed its investigation into the death of Carlton Decker, with no charges being brought.
It concluded that Decker, who had lived in the nursing home for several years, may have known the pass code needed to leave the locked memory-care unit, and could have left undetected by staff.
“Based upon the thorough investigation by the Ballston Spa Police Department who worked in conjunction with the NYS Department of Health, we find that there is no basis for a criminal charge,” Murphy said in a statement.
Decker died at Saratoga Hospital from a heart attack after having been found in the exterior courtyard of Maplewood Manor after 1 a.m. Dec. 22, potentially having spent as much as two hours outdoors.
Decker was found by staffers who were looking for him after discovering he was absent during a routine bed check at 1 a.m. The previous check had been at 11 p.m., county officials said.
Initially, it was thought that Decker had exited his room through the second-floor window onto a lower rooftop and then dropped into the courtyard along with his walker.
However, Murphy said autopsy results disproved that theory.
The forensic pathologist determined that Decker had severe osteoporosis and would have had numerous broken bones and fractures had he fallen or dropped even a short distance, Murphy said.
In addition, since Decker used a walker, going out a window, across a rooftop and down onto the pavement below would have been difficult, if not impossible, given his frail condition, Murphy said.
According to the Ballston Spa Police Department findings, Decker may have known the access code to the unit’s locked doors, allowing him to leave without setting off an alarm. The door alarm and a guard on Decker’s ankle were both found to be in working order, police found.
“Investigation was unable to rule out the possibility that the victim knew the bypass alarm code at the unit door, as suggested by the patient’s granddaughter,” the police report summary states.
Once out of the unit, Decker probably took the elevator located directly outside the locked unit doors down to the first floor. Murphy said that staff, if seated at the nurses’ station, could not have viewed the hallways of the unit. It’s also possible that staff on duty was tending to another resident, and did not see Decker leaving.
No alarm went off when the first-floor door was opened. Murphy said it could not be confirmed that all doors on the first floor leading to the exterior courtyard were alarmed and secured at the time of the incident.
The state Health Department, which oversees long-term care facilities, is also investigating the death. The county’s own internal investigation also continues, said County Administrator Spencer Hellwig III.
The Department of Health, Maplewood Manor staff and Saratoga County all cooperated fully with the investigation, Murphy said.