Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to list the cause of death as hyperthermia.
PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — A Pensacola family filed a lawsuit Thursday against Pensacola Developmental Center where a disabled man died after allegedly being left alone inside a van.
Jerome Sanders was developmentally disabled and non-verbal after a case of jaundice affected his brain when he was 10 months old.
He lived at Pensacola Developmental Center where he was a full-time resident since 1982. He died in their care on June 22, 2022 at the age of 66. He was allegedly left in a van for more than eight hours.
“It’s just an unimaginable way to die,” Attorney Rachael Gilmer said.
Sanders was scheduled to be transported down the street to an art program at Pyramid but he never showed up.
Gilmer, an attorney at Levin Papantonio Rafferty, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday alleging negligence on the part of Pyramid and Pensacola Developmental Center.
“This was June in Pensacola,” Gilmer said. “We were actually under a heat advisory that day. Temperatures were over 100 degrees.”
He couldn’t call out for help and he couldn’t buckle or unbuckle himself because of his disabilities.
“He knew that he was stuck there and had no way to get out and he just sat there for hours and hours and hours until he finally lost consciousness,” Gilmer said.
Gilmer and Jerome’s family want to send a message to other facilities like this one to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
“They have to be adequately trained,” Gilmer said. “They’ve got to be properly staffed. There has to be not just protocols to account for everybody but protocols that are enforced and followed.”
His family and attorneys say this lawsuit is the first step in finding out how this happened and holding his caregivers accountable.
“The family wants answers,” she said. “They want to know why did this happen? How did this happen? How in the world was their brother left in a hot car for over 8 hours and nobody had any idea that he was missing?”
The Medical Examiner’s autopsy report revealed his death was caused by hyperthermia.
WKRG News 5 reached out to Pyramid, Inc. and Florida MENTOR which operates Pensacola Developmental Center to get comment but we’re waiting for a response.