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September 26, 2001-Mother Files Lawsuit Against Care Center For Son's Abuse

Leeha Tucker vividly remembers the scratches and bruises on her son's neck when he was pronounced dead at a Midwest City hospital on Aug. 30, 2000. Her anger remains mixed with guilt as she summons memories of her middle child, Joe L. "J.J." McCormick Jr., who suffered severe autism and lived with her for 24 of his 25 years.

His final year was spent at Choctaw Living Center. There, earlier in 2000, another resident had died, although her body wasn't discovered in her room for six days. McCormick also died at the Choctaw Living Center. He was strangled by a 34-year-old resident who had the mental capacity of a 2-year-old.

Tucker filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday in Oklahoma County District Court against Choctaw Living Centers Inc. The woman said Tuesday she hopes a jury verdict in her favor will furnish a measure of financial compensation for her grief. She also wants to send a warning to other Oklahomans who have second thoughts about placing a loved one in a nursing home. The lawsuit alleges Choctaw Living Center "allowed and failed to prevent mental and physical abuse of its patients," including McCormick.

The nursing home's employees, according to the petition, "were poorly trained and poorly supervised and there was little or no effort expended toward correcting that situation" at the home for mentally handicapped Oklahomans. Tucker's lawsuit says the Choctaw Living Center staff failed to inform her that her son "was being harassed and tortured" by Jerome Vaught, the Down syndrome resident who strangled McCormick with a belt. The wrongful death suit requests a standard amount "exceeding $10,000" in damages for McCormick's untimely death and for repeated violations of the Oklahoma Nursing Home Care Act.

After McCormick's death, the Choctaw Living Center was closed by the state Health Department, and the corporation subsequently was dissolved. A murder charge against Vaught was dropped. Tucker and her attorney said Tuesday they hope to collect damages from the Choctaw Living Center's directors and its insurers.

Randy Goodman, the nursing home's court-appointed receiver at the time of McCormick's death, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Last month, the Choctaw Living Center was sold for $ 1 million to a limited liability company affiliated with Hobby Lobby.

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