Liberty death sparks talk of elderly watch

By John W. Goodwin Jr.

One trustee is researching the program in hopes of bringing information to the other two trustees.

LIBERTY — Township officials are looking to implement a new program designed to keep an eye on seniors after the death of an 87-year-old woman earlier this week.

Mary Rush of Mansell Drive was found on her front porch, unconscious with severe cuts, just after 7 a.m. Monday. The porch area was covered in blood, and a large rock was found by a nearby broken window.

Fire Chief Michael Durkin said Rush’s leg was broken and caught in the railing leading to the porch. Her body has been taken to Cuyahoga County for an autopsy.

Police have since determined that Rush, who suffered from a form of dementia, locked herself out and was cut trying to gain entry to the house.

Police checked the area by car twice in the morning when Rush would have likely been outside after a neighbor complained of someone crying out outside, but they did not find the woman. Some have questioned why officers did not search the area on foot.

Township Trustee Jodi Stoyak and Administrator Pat Ungaro said whatever system the police department was operating under at the time Rush died did not work, and they don’t want it to happen again.

Ungaro said an independent investigation of the woman’s death is a consideration but emphasized that he is not interested in a “witch hunt.”

The key thing is to find out what happened and do everything possible to ensure it doesn’t occur again, he added.

Ungaro and Stoyak said they were to meet this morning with Law Director Mark Finamore to get advice on what path the township should take.

Stoyak, trustee chairwoman, said she may call a special meeting of the board to discuss the matter. The next regular trustee meeting is scheduled for May 12.

Stoyak has contacted police in Brimfield Township to obtain information on a Senior Citizens Welfare Check program already in use in that department.

“Whatever system is in place, in this case, didn’t work so the board is going to be proactive in putting a new system in place so this does not happen again,” said Stoyak. “We don’t want this to happen again, and I think prevention is the key.”

Under the program, seniors living in the community would be grouped according to geographical locations with an officer assigned to each group. Each month the officer would make regular visits to check the welfare of those in his or her section.

“Certainly we all have elderly friends and family who need to be checked on regularly,” Stoyak said.

Ungaro said the first step in setting up the program will be identifying the elderly and those in the community interested in the program.

“This is going to be a growing problem,” he said. “We need information on people in these situations so we can work from there. Police have to be a part of this and the fire department will have to be a part of this.”

Stoyak said once a database has been created police will know where the elderly in the township live and any physical or mental problems those residents may have.

From a police standpoint, Captain Richard Tisone sees the program as a good community service.

“Not only is this doable, but a good idea,” he said. “As soon as we get some information on how to set the program up, I am sure we can make something happen.”

Trustee Gary Litch, calling the death of Rush a tragedy, said programs such as the senior watch are helpful and needed in a community such as Liberty with a high senior population. He said it is his hope that the township can get the program going.

Trustee Jack Simon said he has not seen all of the information on the program but is looking forward to reviewing the details.

“I like the sound of it,” he said. “If it’s feasible to implement then it is something I would definitely like to move forward with.”

Stoyak said the program, if the Brimfield program is used as a model, would have other perks for township seniors such as birthday cards, Christmas gift bags and an annual senior breakfast.

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