Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Police surround the Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills, Fla., in a Sept. 13, 2017, file photo.The Associated Press

The deaths of a dozen fragile patients in the stifling heat of a post-hurricane power outage two years ago would have been avoided if not for the neglect of four Miami-area nursing home employees who face criminal charges, police said on Tuesday.

Describing a detailed, ongoing investigation that could lead to more arrests, police laid blame for the deaths of the patients at the now-closed Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills squarely on the four defendants, who were arrested over the past three days.

“These four individuals neglected their duties and failed to provide accurate care, which ultimately resulted in the deaths of these 12 victims,” Hollywood police Chief Chris O’Brien told a news conference.

Defense lawyers said their clients were innocent of criminal wrongdoing and did their best to care for the victims, all of them in frail health, under extremely difficult, unpredictable circumstances posed by 2017’s Hurricane Irma.

Two of the former employees, Jorge Carballo, 61, the administrator, and Sergo Colin, 45, a supervising nurse, were each charged with 12 counts of aggravated manslaughter. Althia Meggie, 36, a registered nurse, was charged with two counts of manslaughter and two counts of evidence tampering.

After surrendering to authorities at the Broward County Jail in nearby Fort Lauderdale on Monday, the three defendants posted bond – $17,000 for Meggie and $90,000 for Carballo and Colin – and were expected to be released later on Tuesday, Defense attorney David Frankel said.

A fourth defendant, Tamika Miller, 31, a licensed practical nurse, faces six counts of aggravated manslaughter and three counts of evidence tampering. She was arrested in Miami on Saturday and is being held in Miami-Dade County jail, pending extradition to Broward County.

The arrests follow a ruling by the Broward County coroner that the deaths at the nursing home in Hollywood, about 40 miles (64 km) north of Miami, were homicides, defence lawyers said.

Police said the still-open investigation, which O’Brien called “one of the most extensive in the history of our agency,” involved numerous other law enforcement agencies, more than 1,200 working hours and more than 500 interviews.

“We do anticipate additional arrests,” added Hollywood police Major Steven Bolger.

The 12 victims, ranging in age from 57 to 99, were found to have died from heat exposure after being left with little or no air conditioning in the nursing home for days after Irma knocked out power to the facility’s cooling system on Sept. 10, 2017.

David Frankel, one of the attorneys for the defendants, said most of the dead had been under hospice care, and that moving them would have proven medically risky.

The criminal investigation was launched almost immediately after the first deaths were reported in the aftermath of Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, which killed more than 80 people in the Caribbean and on the U.S. mainland.

City officials said the rehab centre continued to operate without central air conditioning as daytime temperatures in the Miami area rose to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

Portable air coolers and fans were placed throughout the building but were ineffective in curtailing the heat, authorities said.

“They didn’t do enough,” O’Brien said. “These are trained professionals that should’ve been aware of the hazards taking place and they chose to ignore them.”

An evacuation described by medical workers as chaotic was finally carried out on the third day after the storm, as residents in the overheated building began lapsing into cardiac arrest.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe