38°F
weather icon Clear

Sloppy handling of death has officials on hot seat

A California woman accused the public administrator’s office of acting too quickly recently to secure a valley property after the death of her mother.

Margie Rigby of Riverside, Calif., said she found out about the Oct. 24 death of her mother, Mary Dawson, at the Spring Mountain Apartments in Pahrump from the county public administrator’s office the next day, while driving her daughter to Los Angeles International Airport.

When Rigby arrived in Pahrump, her mother’s jewelry box and other belongings had already been moved. Representatives of the public administrator’s office and Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall defended the process of notifying next-of-kin after a death in front of about 20 people gathered for a meeting Wednesday at the senior living complex.

Rigby held up sheets of paper where her mother listed instructions for contacting her next-of-kin.

“We’re more interested that our next-of-kin goes into that home first,” said neighbor Virginia Green. “Most of us made our wills, made our arrangements for what’s going to be done.”

“The only reason a public administrator is called is because it’s an unattended death. That means there are no immediate family members present. Usually it’s a neighbor, it’s a friend that’s checking on someone and more often than not they call the sheriff’s office,” Deputy Public Administrator Robin Durand-Rudolph said.

Usually her office gets information on the deceased from friends and neighbors. She said, ”We look in their wallet, we get their driver’s license, we look for any letters, we check their cell phone records, we check their telephone records and we give that information to the sheriff’s office. If it’s someone local, we knock on the door (of the relatives). Usually that’s done within 24 hours of when a death has occurred.”

“With all the senior complexes within the town we have requested each rental manager have the individual fill out a next-of-kin contact form,” she said.

Marshall said when sheriff’s deputies find an unattended death, they have to find out if it’s a suspicious death, then they’ll contact other agencies like the public administrator, they could also contact a doctor, or animal control if there are pets. They used to have “files for life,” with information people wanted to provide in case of death, but stopped doing it for budget reasons, he said.

“I’d like to know how it’s possible I can be dead for a couple of days before my children are notified,” Rose Creamer said.

“That is possible,” Marshall said. “We’re talking about someone who is unidentified.”

The public administrator is responsible for securing the property, not the body; that lies with the coroner’s office, he said.

“Our concern is finding the next of kin and conserving the property. We don’t come in with a trailer and haul everything away. We will look for a will, we look for a trust, we look for a note on the refrigerator who we’re supposed to contact. But if there’s a gun in the house, or things that people can easily steal from the property, we secure those items,” Durand-Rudolph said.

Rigby said there was a note on the refrigerator. If something happened to her mother, Rigby said she could be here in a few hours. The next day after the death, Rigby said she was instructed by an employee of the public administrator’s office to contact the deputy public administrator to get the keys to her mother’s apartment.

Rigby said she contacted the Riverside Police Department and sheriff’s department, but they said there wasn’t a message from the Nye County Sheriff’s Department. Marshall contradicted that statement. He said sheriff’s deputies went to the apartment to conduct a welfare check, found Rigby’s mother, found the note on the refrigerator, determined it was a natural death and sent a teletype to the Riverside Police Department requesting Rigby be contacted.

Rigby asked why they didn’t follow up to be sure the Riverside Police Department was contacted. Marshall said his department doesn’t have the resources any more to follow up on each call for service, a statement that angered some audience members.

“My mom didn’t have a will. She didn’t have a bank account. She had used furniture there and I can’t go in,” Rigby said tearfully. “I didn’t have a choice to where my mother went, I had no say, no say about anything.”

“When I finally was able to get the keys to go into my mom’s apartment, it looked like they just went through and put stuff wherever they wanted,” she said.

Green said public administrator’s office employees didn’t take pictures, didn’t use clipboards to write down things and didn’t identify themselves.

Deputy Public Administrator Charlene Riley admitted, “this was just a series of things that didn’t go the way they were supposed to.”

Marshall said deputies don’t like notifying next-of-kin over the phone because they don’t know the relatives’ medical condition. He said the public administrator by state law has the right to secure the property.

“We have a right to die in comfort and peace without somebody going through our belongings before our relatives get there,” Creamer said.

Nye County Public Administrator Falkon Finlinson said some estates are at a higher risk of being plundered for certain things. “We’ve had quite a few estates get broken into,” he said.

Marshall said if there are any controlled substances left in the home they will be disposed of by sheriff’s deputies.

Rigby wanted to know the procedure for when the public administrator’s office is called.

“The public administrator’s office was called even before the mortuary. Those people were in my mom’s apartment before my mom was taken out of there,” she said.

Green said someone from the public administrator’s office went to the deceased person’s bank before her daughter arrived. Riley said that’s a precaution her office takes. Riley recalled a woman who was a caretaker of an elderly woman in the community who died recently was running around telling people she had power of attorney, the public administrator’s office put a hold on the decedent’s bank account.

As soon as she found out there were two children and not a will, Riley said she e-mailed Rigby’s brother, who lives in Hawaii. “I didn’t hold anything for hostage,” she said.

Marshall said an apartment manager can work with the public administrator’s office to request they lock the doors after a person dies until relatives show up. Finlinson said he already met with the apartment complex managers and came up with a solution to resolve the problem; the managers are willing to assume liability for the contents.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Multiple schools in Pahrump affected by COVID-19

Multiple schools have had staff members test positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks. Pahrump Valley High School also announced that someone at the school has tested positive in a letter to families on its website.

State reports 1,146 new COVID-19 cases, 5 deaths

For the first time since Aug. 14, more than 1,000 new cases were reported in Nevada on Saturday, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

USDA works to expand rural broadband

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now accepting applications for funding to provide broadband service in undeserved rural areas. Broadband service is the speed of your internet. This new grant will be available in the year 2021 under the Community Connect Grant program.

Tuatara comes to the finish line on highway 160

The motor of the now record-breaking SSC Tuatara wound down to its final stop along Highway 160, near Tecopa Road, on Oct. 10.

Helicopter crashes into Lake Spring Mountain

No serious injuries were reported following the crash of a helicopter in a lake at the Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club just after 10 a.m., on Friday morning, Oct. 16.

Nye County waives brothel licensing fees, rejects same request for pot industry

In the face of COVID-19, many businesses in Nye County have seen negative impacts and have been struggling to keep afloat as the pandemic continues to hold sway over government mandated restriction. In a lot of cases, those businesses have been able to turn to federal, state and local programs for assistance but not so for the brothel and marijuana industries, which are barred from utilizing a majority, if not all, of the available programs.

Impact statement for Lee Canyon plans now available

The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest on Oct. 9 published the Notice of Availability of the final Lee Canyon Master Development Plan Phase I Environmental Impact Statement for a 30-day review period.

Nursing home group warns of another COVID-19 spike

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, representing more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities across the country that provide care to approximately 5 million people each year, released a report today showing nursing homes in the U.S. could see a third spike of increasing new COVID-19 cases because of the community spread among the general population.

WGU enhances B.S. degree program in cloud computing

Western Governors University on Tuesday announced the launch of key updates to its Bachelor of Science cloud computing degree program built in collaboration with Amazon Web Services, Inc. The degree program is designed to prepare students with the skills they need to succeed in today’s economy and meet the demands of employers seeking cloud professionals.

Health guidelines revised for vocal performances

Nevada Health Response has issued a revised version of the “Nevada Guidance for Safe Gatherings” to clarify when vocal performers can remove face coverings.