Man with Down Syndrome Died in Hot Van While Caretaker Napped, Police Say

Joshua Russell (Courtesy: Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office)

PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida — A Florida man with Down syndrome died in a hot van while his caretaker took a nap, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office says.

Joshua Russell, 26, of St. Petersburg was charged last week with one count of aggravated manslaughter of a disabled adult.

Authorities said 35-year-old John LaPointe of Seminole died while restrained in the back of the van on a hot day in the spring.

“LaPointe had Down syndrome, was non-verbal, had the cognitive ability of a 1-year-old, and was unable to care for himself,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

“This poor guy baked,” Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Friday at a press conference. “It had to be absolutely horrific in that car for that man.”

CNN is trying to reach Russell or his attorney.

The statement from the sheriff’s office says Russell worked at the Crossroads of Pinellas group home where LaPointe lived. On May 9, detectives say, Russell drove LaPointe to a doctor’s appointment about 1 p.m. He then stopped by his own home and “he ingested two packages of Kratom, a substance made from a tree that is sometimes used as a recreational drug.”

Russell then returned to the van and began driving back to the group home, the statement says.

Russell began feeling “tired and nauseous,” so he returned home again, “parked the van in the driveway and turned the van off. Russell told detectives he took a nap in the van while LaPointe was still seat-belted in the back seat,” the sheriff’s office said. When Russell woke two to three hours later, he was covered in sweat. He noticed LaPointe slumped over and unresponsive.

“Detectives conducted their investigation into the circumstances surrounding LaPointe’s death and estimated the temperature inside the van at 125 degrees Fahrenheit when LaPointe died,” the sheriff’s office said in its statement.

Authorities say Russell attempted CPR and, when that was unsuccessful, he “went back into his home and got a gun, with the intention of killing himself.”

The sheriff’s department said Russell called his mother, who also worked at Crossroads of Pinellas, and she called 911. After authorities responded, Russell was charged with carrying a concealed firearm.

After Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office determined that LaPointe’s cause of death was hyperthermia, Russell was arrested Friday and charged in LaPointe’s death.

According to online records, Russell posted a $50,000 bond and was released.

CNN left voice mails at the group home seeking comment but did not receive a callback.

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