BY KEN LITTLE
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) closed the case of East Tennessee Community Homes resident Ronnie Derrick last year without criminal prosecution.
Derrick, 47, was a resident of a recently completed group home at 2105 Susong Drive in the Camp Creek community when his body was found in his room on the morning of Dec. 2, 2012.
An autopsy of Derrick showed that he died of "a sudden cardiac death" likely brought on by chronic heart conditions and not by the excessively hot temperature in the room.
The state Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) released the autopsy results early last year. A TBI spokeswoman said at the time results of a parallel investigation were still pending.
NO 'CRIMINAL ACTIVITY'
"The TBI investigation did not substantiate any criminal activity resulting in Ronnie Derrick's death," Illana Tate, TBI executive officer, said Monday in an email response to questions.
The TBI investigation supports the findings of the DIDD inquiry into Derrick's death. The DIDD investigation was also completed in 2013.
Findings "(do) not indicate that the death was a result of abuse or neglect by the staff," according to a summary.
"The currently-available evidence in this case does not indicate that the death was a result of abuse or neglect by the staff at the East Tennessee Community Home," the DIDD report said.
Former DIDD Commissioner James M. Henry said last year that the investigation supports the contention that there was no foul play in connection with Derrick's death.
"It's a natural cause of death. It had to do with a cardiac-related thing with Mr. Derrick," said Henry, who is currently commissioner of the state Department of Children's Services.
Derrick was found deceased in his bed by a staff member in the community home in the Camp Creek community at 6:05 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.
The DIDD report summary said that Derrick's condition was "normal and routine" the night before his death and at bedtime.
An autopsy was conducted that same day at the William L. Jenkins Forensic Center at the Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University.
"Foul play is not suspected in his death," the autopsy summary said.
"(Derrick) had a medical history of autism and was considered fairly 'high functioning' in that he was capable of expressing discomfort, although not via specific verbalization," it said.
Derrick was able to take care of "his own basic physical needs," the summary added.
His medical history includes hypertension and high blood cholesterol.
The night before his death, Derrick was described as being in a "good mood" and expressed no discomfort, the summary said.
"On the night of his death, a malfunction of the heating system at the home resulted in a significantly increased temperature within [Derrick's room].
"When he was discovered deceased, it was noted that he had removed articles of clothing and cast them off the bed, potentially as a response to increasing room temperature," the DIDD summary said.
A core temperature of Derrick's body was not taken at the scene, the summary noted.
"The room temperature upon initial entry was estimated to be over 100 degrees; however, the actual temperature of the room was not measured at that time," the summary said.
Derrick was reportedly not confined to his room "and was free to leave the room of his own volition," according to the summary.
"Therefore, the question as to why the decedent did not leave his room when the temperature had increased to an extreme is raised, since he was capable of notifying others of discomfort and taking care of his own basic physical needs," it said.
BED CHECKS DONE
Visual bed checks on Derrick were conducted hourly, the DIDD investigation report stated.
"This person preferred to not be disturbed throughout the night so bed checks were done visually with staff not physically entering his room," it said.
But the DIDD report also said that one staff member on duty at the home "admitted to leaving his shift an hour and 10 minutes early without authorization."
"It does not appear that this contributed in any way to the person's death, as the home exceeded ICF [Intermediate Care Facilities] and DIDD staffing requirements," the report said.
East Tennessee Community Homes has 13 community homes operating in Greene County, and three more are under construction.
Each one houses four residents and is an ICF designed for intellectually-disabled clients. Most of the residents have other health-related issues.
The heating/cooling systems in the Susong Drive community home where Derrick lived, and seven others built in Greene County about the same time, were all inspected, a DIDD spokeswoman said last year.
The HVAC systems in the eight homes were inspected by an independent heat and air company as a safety precaution. Problems were found in four homes, but "corrective actions" were taken," she said.
The thermostats and thermostat sensors in the eight community homes were also replaced "as a safety precaution."