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Attorney says death of man who escaped Canton nursing home should have been prevented

Officer who gave man a ride didn't know of escape
Posted at 6:27 PM, Apr 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-20 18:27:08-04

The death of dementia patient who escaped a nursing home in Canton should have been prevented, according to an attorney representing the man's family.

"There are really good nursing homes that provide excellent care and then there are nursing homes who fail to follow protocols and this type of tragedy results," said the attorney, Tracey Laslo.

Just a few hours after 56-year-old Mark Billiter slipped away from Glenwood Care and Rehabilitation on 34th Street NW, a police officer spotted him walking along a busy road and gave him a ride, but the officer didn't have a reason to hold him because Billiter hadn't been reported missing by the facility.

Laslo said Billiter was staying in a locked part of the nursing home, specific for dementia patients because he was an escape risk and had made other escape attempts.

But the attorney believes a worker at the facility left a door open which may have allowed Billiter to follow a visitor of another patient out of the building just after 7 p.m. on Sunday.

However, the nursing home didn't notify his family that he was missing until 7 a.m. on Monday.

"In this case, had contact been made timely, this tragedy would have been avoided," Laslo said. "They failed to do a perimeter search. They failed to contact the family immediately."

In between, around 10:30 p.m. Sunday, police were called to U.S. 62 where Billiter was walking. It was a safety concern partly because he was wearing dark clothing in heavily traveled highway area.

Body camera video captured the interaction between the officer and Billiter.

"You can't walk on the highway anyway," the officer said.

The officer offered to give him a ride within the city and asked him his name, but Billiter repeatedly asked to be taken to a relative's home in Alliance.'

"Can you take me to Alliance?" Billiter asked. "I can't take you to Alliance. I've done told you that three times. I can't take you to Alliance," the officer responded.

After Billiter gave an address on Mahoning Avenue in Alliance, the officer took him to the city limits, explaining he couldn't drive him beyond that point.

"Alright man. I'm gonna let you out here," the officer said. "We're at the city limits."

Billiter can be heard thanking the officer, but apparently, he was still about 12 miles away from the address he gave.

On Tuesday, Billiter's body was found near a gas station in Nimishillen Township not far from where he had been dropped off. Investigators believe he may have died from exposure to the cold.

Canton police explained that dispatch was notified of the drop-off, but a separate police report, detailing the contact with Billiter, was not made.

Police said reports are usually only filed when officers investigate complaints or crimes.

Laslo believes police did all they could to help since they didn't know Billiter was a missing man, but the attorney stressed her belief that the nursing home failed a patient with dementia.

"The family of Mark Billiter is heartbroken at this time."

The nursing home said the incident remains under investigation and declined further comment.