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Atascadero High grad was in 'death struggle' with caregivers, parents' attorney says

Lauren Arcady apologized during a struggle with her caregivers, but the improperly trained workers continued to restrain her in a dangerous position, an attorney argued Monday.

"This girl suffered for 15 minutes in a death struggle,” James Murphy said. “She was literally dying to get air.”

After she stopped moving, he added, the caregivers failed to perform CPR and waited roughly five minutes before calling 911.

“That’s why Lauren Arcady is dead,” he told a jury.

While Murphy said he thinks Genesis Developmental Services, which provided the caregivers, should be held liable, an attorney for Genesis said Arcady’s psychiatrist should be blamed for prescribing “grossly negligent” doses of medication.

"Lauren was a ticking time bomb with her medication combination,” attorney Sean Cowdrey told a jury. “Lauren’s death was caused by those medications.”

As attorneys offered closing arguments during the six-week civil trial, Murphy — representing Arcady’s parents, Kathleen Reed and Alexander Arcady — asked the jury for a verdict of $5 million.

Arcady, 33, died at her residence in June 2010.

After roughly five years living in a state-operated facility for people with developmental disabilities, the Atascadero High School graduate moved into her own home in Santa Maria in February 2008. To facilitate that, two caregivers from Genesis — a company based in Santa Maria and Arroyo Grande — were assigned to be with her during the day.

Arcady had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, suffered from seizures, was prone to self-injurious behavior and had mild mental retardation, according to court documents.

On June 26, 2010, she became involved in a struggle with caregivers Vanessa Gonzales and Cristina Camacho.

Murphy said Gonzales, paid $8.32 an hour, had a history of safety violations and had not attended mandatory meetings. Neither she nor Camacho, Murphy said, had been given CPR training because it was deemed too expensive.

“If you want to blame someone for the lack of CPR training, the buck stops at the top,” he said, referring to Genesis CEO Ron Dodgen. “If you set up a bad system, people are going to get hurt, and people can die.”

Cowdrey, an attorney with Southern California law firm Beach Whitman Cowdrey, said the Santa Barbara coroner’s conclusions back their defense. The coroner’s office concluded that Arcady died as a result of cardiac arrhythmia caused by excited delirium and high doses of an antidepressant drug named Citalopram. Once a struggle ensued, Cowdrey said, all of those factors contributed to her death.

“Those girls weren’t out to hurt Lauren,” he said.

The two caregivers were never charged with a crime.

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