Man With Special Needs Dies in Hot Car Outside Group Home

Arlington man may have been in SUV outside home for six hours, police say

A resident of an Arlington home for people with special needs died on Thursday after he was left in a hot sport utility vehicle for as long as six hours, authorities said.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office identified the man as Terrance Sanders, 29. Police said he had the mental capacity of a young child.

Police responded to a call for help in the 6500 block of El Dorado Drive at about 3:15 p.m. on Thursday. When officers arrived, they found Sanders dead inside the vehicle.

Arlington police said Friday that Sanders should have been dropped off at a Grand Prairie day care facility at 9 a.m. on Thursday, but wasn't. Police also said Sanders was unable to walk without assistance and could not get in or out of a vehicle on his own.

Police are investigating to determine whether or not charges should be filed in the case. Investigators are waiting for the medical examiner's determination of cause of death to determine if it was heat-related.

Detectives questioned several workers at the home Thursday night.

Police said the initial investigation showed that residents of the home were driven to another location at about 9 a.m., but Sanders apparently never got out.

When another employee got into the vehicle to go pick up the residents, he noticed Sanders inside and called 911.

The police investigation is one of at least three now underway into Thursday's tragedy.

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services said the agency would conduct an investigation, as will Adult Protective Services, a division of Family Protective Services.

Several DADS representatives were seen trying to visit the home on El Dorado Drive on Friday afternoon, but no one answered the door when they knocked.

Group Home Is a State Contractor

The home is run by Cherry Tree Residential Services, an Arlington-based contractor that has three DFW-area contracts as part of the Home and Community-based Services program, DADS said.

Cherry Tree cares for 23 people at eight homes as part of its HCS contract, according to DADS. The company had no issues related to the health or safety of clients in its most recent inspection, DADS spokeswoman Cecilia Cavuto said in an email to NBC 5.

That inspection took place in March.

A website provided by DADS for Cherry Tree showed that despite no health or safety issues, the company received six violations of HCS principles. The website shows six violations is lower than the state average for contractors.

One violation Cherry Tree received said, "The program provider failed to ensure the continuous availability of trained and qualified service providers to deliver the required services as determined by the program participant's needs."

While Cherry Tree runs the group home, records show that Fundamental Living Inc. owns the home. DADS said it is reviewing to see if it has any contracts with Fundamental Living.

Neighbors say a group home has existed at the house for at least 15 years. DADS records show that Cherry Tree has had a contract open since 2006.

For more on HCS click here.

State Agency Warns All State Contractors

On Friday, DADS said it had informed all of its contractors across the state to be aware of hot temperatures and where all of their clients were. The warning explicitly says to keep track of clients and make sure they exit vehicles.

With excessive heat expected to continue across the state, it is imperative that providers ensure the safety of clients when they are being transported in vehicles in the heat.

Providers must take additional precautions to ensure that all individuals safely exit a vehicle when it reaches its destination. Specifically, staff should be trained and reminded of the following:

-Have a list of all individuals who are being transported, and verify at drop-off locations that everyone has exited the vehicle. 

-Conduct a secondary check of the vehicle every time it is parked to ensure that no one remains inside. 

-Make sure that seat belts and seat surfaces are not too hot before individuals sit down and receive assistance with buckling up.

The agency also reminded contractors about the symptoms of heat. While children are often most susceptible to heat-related injuries or death after being left in cars, adults are just as vulnerable.

"Most of the numbers will say after about 20 minutes, the car will reach 125, 130 (degrees), so it's much hotter than a sauna," said Dr. Gerald Chase, of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. "And if you read the signs at the sauna, it will tell you you can't stand in there for more than 15 minutes, so people will start to have problems."

Chase said his ER is seeing more and more adults with heat-related problems as the summer goes on and he recommends people look after their family members and friends. Lack of hydration is often a problem, he said.

Neighborhood Upset by Thursday's Tragedy

No one answered the door at the home on Friday but neighbors who live in the area said they were saddened and disgusted by Sanders' death.

"It upset me. If it's negligence, which it probably is, that just bothers me really bad," Garnet Cox said. "Whoever was driving must have taken two or three of them in the house, and why they didn't come back for the other one, I don't know."

Adam Nicholson said he thinks it is "absolutely terrible."

"How do you lose somebody for hours in the heat and not notice they're gone? You're paid to take care of these people," he said.

He told NBC 5 on Thursday night that neighbors had noticed residents of the home roaming the neighborhood unsupervised.

On Monday, Nicholson found a disoriented man up the street, sweating profusely and unaware of where he was, he said. Another neighbor walked him back to the group home, where they never realized he was gone, he said.

Cox also said she has seen some residents walking in the neighborhood, saying she believed the home's door was left unlocked or that some residents knew how to unlock it.

NBC 5's Kendra Lyn contributed to this report.

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