Case involving the death of a 68-year-old woman shines light on issue of elder abuse
The recent arrest of a Butte County couple in connection to the death of the husband’s 68-year-old mother has brought the issue of elder abuse front and center in the local community. The fact that the investigation took a year and a half from her time of death highlights how difficult it can be to make the case for such a crime.
According to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, Deanna Schorovsky was taken to Feather River Hospital in Paradise on July 17, 2013, suffering from numerous skin sores and malnourishment. The hospital’s medical staff called the county’s Adult Protective Services as well as the Sheriff’s Office because of suspected abuse.
The woman died two weeks later while in hospice care. Officials then launched a 19-month investigation that resulted in the arrests of her son Gavin Schorovsky, 42, and his 43-year-old wife, Sandy. The couple lived with the woman in a house off Pentz Road near Paradise.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said his office is calling it the “melting mother case.”
“They basically let her melt,” Ramsey charged. “She had two wounds on her back, including one on her tailbone that exposed her spine.”
He said daughter-in-law Sandy called 911 to report the woman’s declining mental and physical health. Medics arrived and reportedly noticed a number of skin wounds called pressure ulcers. She was taken to the hospital, where she was also found to be severely malnourished.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Deanna Schorovsky’s mental and physical health had declined to the point where she could no longer speak or move on her own.
Sandy Schorovsky worked as the activities coordinator for an area senior-citizen care home and had received training in how to identify signs of elder abuse and neglect, Ramsey said.
“We’re charging this as a murder based on her very special knowledge, and we have her training records indicating that she should have definitely known better,” he said. “This is what we call an implied-malice murder.”
Sandy Schorovsky was charged with one count of second-degree murder with bail set at $1 million. Gavin Schorovsky, whom Ramsey described as “a laborer” was charged with elder abuse causing death and his bail was set at $150,000, according to a Sheriff’s Office press release.
The victim suffered from early dementia and had become increasingly immobile over the years, requiring more and more care than she apparently was receiving, Ramsey said. He noted that she had not been taken to a doctor or given prescription medicine since January 2012, even though the couple had been told by relatives to take her in for medical care for the sores they had seen.
“The couple said they had been cleaning her in some sort of bathtub-shower combination,” Ramsey said. “But the sheriff’s officers responding out there found spider webs in the shower, indicating it hadn’t been used for quiet some time.”
The Federal Housing Authority reports that an estimated “700,000 to 1.2 million elderly people (4 percent of all adults older than 65) are subjected to elder mistreatment in the United States [yearly] and that there are 450,000 new cases annually.”
According to Butte County Adult Protective Services, the population most vulnerable to abuse, neglect or exploitation are those with physical disabilities or frailties and/or developmental or emotional disabilities. The abuse can be physical, psycological, financial or due to neglect and abandonment, which means not caring for someone unable to provide his or her basic daily necessities.
Signs of physical abuse include bodily injury, cuts, bruises, burns and deprivation of food and water.
The Adult Protective Services website says “state law requires mandated reporters to report on all suspicions of physical abuse, neglect, financial abuse, abandonment, isolation, abduction or other treatment resulting in physical harm, pain or mental suffering.”
The “mandated reporter” is anyone who’s assumed full- or part-time responsibility for the care or custody of an elder or dependent adult, whether paid or not.
Following the phone call from Feather River Hospital regarding the suspected elder abuse, the Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation into Schorovsky’s death. It was lengthy and included checking in with various health experts on how long it would take to have the type of sores she had present themselves, as well as their relative dangers.
“The immediate cause of death was from morphine poisoning,” Ramsey said. “After she was taken in and stabilized at the hospital, she was put into hospice care, where she was given morphine to try to comfort her. She died because of her body’s inability to process the morphine.”
Sandy Schorovsky was arrested at the senior citizen residence where she worked and her husband was arrested at the couple’s house.
“She was the activities coordinator and working at such a home you have to go through training to recognize elder abuse and how to follow up with proper care,” Ramsey said. “She was arrested [while] taking care of another elder at the home.”
The couple were arraigned Friday (March 6) and scheduled to enter their respective pleas in Butte County Superior Court on Thursday (March 12). According to court records, the most serious offense previously charged against either one was a 2006 DUI with a prior against Gavin Schorovsky for which he failed to appear. Sandy Schorovsky was charged in the past for speeding, and having dogs running at large and/or not being licensed in Paradise.
Ramsey said there has been some concern voiced that press releases and the subsequent stories carried in the local media have suggested the couple lived in Oroville when they in fact live in unincorporated Butte County nearer to Paradise. The Schorovskys’ only connection to Oroville is that their residence is within Oroville’s postal district.
Based on the serious nature of the case, the link to Oroville has cast a misdirected light on the county seat, some say. So much so, Ramsey said, that John Loewe, publisher of the weekly paper the Oroville Community Mirror, which has close ties with the Oroville Chamber of Commerce, recently called the DA’s office to express his concerns that the city was “getting a bad rap” in connection to the Schorovsky case.
Ramsey told Loewe he understood the concern and that he would be aware of it when talking with the press about the case.