By Larry King
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Bucks County prosecutors this afternoon filed felony neglect charges against a suspended Woods Services counselor in the July 25 heat-related death of Bryan Nevins, a severely autistic resident of the facility in Langhorne.
Stacey J. Strauss, 40, of Philadelphia, was charged with neglect of a care-dependent person, involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person after allegedly leaving Nevins, 20, in a parked van outside Woods Services on a day of record heat.
Nevins was found dead five hours after returning from a field trip to Sesame Place. His parents, who live in New York, have said their son had the mental ability of a two-year-old. Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler has said that Nevins would have been unable to operate the door handles of the van because of his severe autism.
Nevins and his twin brother, who also is autistic, had lived at Woods Services for years, his parents have said. They withdrew the other brother after Bryan Nevins' death. The men's father, retired New York City homicide detective William Nevins, told the Associated Press last week that he believed his son died because of one person's neglect.
Investigators agreed with that assessment.
"Mr. Nevins' death was not simply a tragic accident," said a statement issued by Heckler and Middletown Township Acting Public Safety Director Patrick McGinty. "Rather, his death resulted from the criminal failure of the defendant to discharge her assigned responsibilities."
The charges allege that Strauss and another Woods Services worker took Nevins and three other clients in a van to Sesame Place, near the Oxford Valley Mall. Nevins inexplicably was left behind in the van after their return to the facility around noon.
"It is undisputed that ... Mr. Nevins was not escorted from the van, nor was he returned to the residence by Ms. Strauss as was her responsibility," the statement said. "Instead, he was left in the van on one of the hottest days of this terribly hot summer."
It has been estimated that the temperature inside the van reached as high as 150 degrees, and that Nevins died within an hour of being left there. Bucks County Coroner Joseph Campbell determined that Nevins died of hyperthermia, and that the death was accidental.
The death came one year after 2-year-old Daniel Slutsky died of hyperthermia after being accidentally left in the back of a van outside a day-care center in Penndel, Bucks County.
Then-District Attorney Michelle Henry filed involuntary manslaughter charges against Rimma Shvartsman, a neighbor of the toddler's family who operated the center and had driven the boy there. A Bucks County Court jury found her not guilty of all charges in March.
The neglect charge against Strauss, a first-degree felony, is more severe. It carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Prosecutors said police had notified Strauss's attorney of the charges, and that she has been directed to surrender to Middletown Township authorities.