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Crime and Courts

3 caregivers charged in death of 86-year-old at Grand Junction assisted living facility

Staff initially said Hazel Place died peacefully in a courtyard, her family says. An investigation led by the Attorney General’s office showed she was actually left out in the heat for 6 hours

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Three caregivers have been charged in the death of an 86-year-old woman who investigators say was left outside a Grand Junction assisted living facility in the heat for six hours in June, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday.

Caregivers Jamie Johnston, 30, Jenny Logan, 50 and Letticia Martinez, 27, are accused of negligent death of an at-risk person and criminally negligent homicide in the June 14 death of Hazel Place.

Martinez and Johnston were also charged with second-degree forgery, state prosecutors said. 

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Place, who had Alzheimer’s disease, was found dead in one of the facility’s courtyards on a day when temperatures climbed to at least 103 degrees and smoke from California’s wildfires prompted air quality alerts in Grand Junction, her daughter, Donna Golden, said.

Place had been living in the facility for nearly three years and required hourly checks, Golden said. She preferred not to stay in her room and so would walk through the halls and around the community room, Golden said. The courtyard she died in was located along one the facility’s main hallways, which is lined with large windows.

Hazel Place. (Provided by Donna Golden)

“Those people knew her routine. She had a presence there,” Golden said. “I don’t understand why one of them didn’t say, ‘Where’s Hazel? I haven’t seen her for a while,’ let alone six hours.”

Golden described her mother as a “sweet, sweet lady” who loved everyone.

She said staff initially told her that her mother had died peacefully in the courtyard after she had “a wonderful day.”

“She went to activities, she had seconds for dinner and then at 8 o’clock they had gotten her ready for bed and she wanted to go outside for a little while and so she went out and when they checked her at 8:30, she had passed,” Golden said, recounting what a staff member told her about her mother’s death. 

But the next day, she received a call from a different employee suggesting wrongdoing led to her mother’s death. 

“So if it hadn’t been for that person, we would have never suspected anything,” Golden said. “I’m just so thankful for that person because these girls need to be held accountable for what they did.” 

The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Colorado Department of Law and the Grand Junction Police Department investigated Place’s death at the Cappella Assisted Living and Memory Care facility.

Two of the accused employees were fired after the facility conducted an internal investigation and a third was placed on “investigatory leave,” according to a statement posted on the facility’s website. 

“We are very saddened by the passing of this beloved resident and we continue to send out sincerest sympathy to this resident’s family and friends,” the facility said. “We immediately reported the circumstances surrounding the resident’s passing and are fully cooperating with the investigations.”

The care facility declined to make additional comments.

Place, a Rifle native, was a mother of three, grandmother to five and a great-grandmother to 12, according to an online obituary

The charges in Place’s death come nearly a year after three people were accused of negligence in the death of an 89-year-old woman whose body was found on a bench in subfreezing temperatures outside a now-shuttered Colorado Springs nursing home in early 2020.