PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Cheryl Yewdall has spent most of her life in a care home in Philadelphia for people with developmental disabilities. It was there, on January 26, that the 50-year-old was found facedown in a pool of urine, choking on a large piece of paper that had been stuffed down her throat.

She died five days later.

No authority has ever told how a 6- or 7-inch paper towel or disinfectant wipe ended up in the windpipe of a woman with cerebral palsy and severe intellectual disability. The court bureau said it was unable to establish how Yewdall died, and a police investigation has not resulted in any arrests.

But mother Yewdall’s lawyer, in a new lawsuit for wrongful d*ath, casts suspicions on an unidentified member of Merakey Woodhaven’s staff – and suggests that Yewdall herself left a disturbing clue about how she was treated in a place she called home for four decades.

“She was just so sweet, innocent and helpless, and she relied on them to look after her, love her and be safe,” said Yewdall’s mother, Christine Civatte, in a telephone interview. – I just thought they would protect her.

In a written statement to The Associated Press, Merakey said he “denies any responsibility” for Yewdall’s d*ath, which he called “a serious and tragic incident.” The organization said it is cooperating with state and local investigations.

“She was a valued member of the Merakey community, and we were honored to have her in our care for over 40 years,” said Merakey, a development, behavioral health and education service provider with nearly 700 locations nationwide.

Cheryl Yewdall, born three months prematurely, moved to Woodhaven as a child. She loved nursery rhymes, doo-wop music and especially Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” – every time her mother put her on, Yewdall smiled, clapped her hands and rocked back and forth in the wheelchair.

Christine Civatte said she thought everything was fine.

But in January 2021, a year before her d*ath, Cheryl suffered a broken leg that was not diagnosed. Then, after the x-rays confirmed the fracture, staff did not immobilize her leg as required, telling the visiting doctor every few weeks later that he did not know how to do this.

In another incident in September 2021, Yewdall had a black eye and a swollen cheek which Woodhaven attributed to the fall.

Yewdall, who had limited verbal skills, often repeated words and phrases she heard from other people, a condition called echolalia. One day her sister asked her to say, “Hello Daddy.”

Yewdall’s response, recorded by her sister on the iPhone, was chilling.

– Listen to me, … Calm down, honey. I will kill you if you don’t calm down, Yewdall said. – I’ll kill you,…–.

According to James Pepper, Yewdall’s mother’s lawyer, the clear implication was that she was simply repeating what she heard in Woodhaven.

“Cheryl’s story of what she heard before and the undisputed facts about what happened to her this year (before her d*ath) fit together,” said Pepper, who had attached a transcript of Yewdall’s testimony to her sister in the lawsuit.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health threatened Woodhaven’s license to end following Yewdall’s d*ath. Regulators also said in their review that the nursing home refused immediate emergency treatment to another resident who had broken a hip, and failed to protect two residents from drinking, an eating disorder in which someone eats things that are not food, according to a state report .

The report found that “Merakey did not implement an effective policy to prevent residents from engaging in pica behavior,” the lawsuit said.

Although other Woodhaven residents struggled with drinking, Pepper said he did not believe Yewdall put a large disinfectant wipe into her own trachea. She had a normal gag reflex and had no history of pica, according to Woodhaven’s records reviewed by the Department of Health.

“No one with a gag reflex within normal limits could put a cleaning tissue … in the windpipe,” said Pepper.

Instead, the lawsuit blames someone in Woodhaven.

“The lack of any history of Cheryl Yewdall involvement in pica behavior indicates that a member of Merakey Woodhaven staff placed a cleaning tissue in Cheryl Yewdall’s trachea,” the lawsuit said.

Philadelphia Police did not respond to many requests for comment. The state attorney general’s office, which has criminal jurisdiction over nursing home neglect, declined to comment.

The State Department of Health returned to Woodhaven on September 6 and lifted the nursing home’s dismissal, stating that “significant progress” had been made in addressing the problems.

Woodhaven sent her condolences to Civatte after her daughter died, but did not provide any information on how or why this happened. The staff invited her to pick up Cheryl’s belongings: six boxes of clothes, toys, dolls.

Civatte said she was still looking for answers.

“I need to know everything that happened. Anytime, ”said Civatte. – I need to find out who found her. I need to know who did it.

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