Wildfire lawsuit expands against Oakmont of Villa Capri senior care home in Fountaingrove
Sonoma County sheriff’s Detective Joey Horsman was off duty when he sped early Oct. 9 to the Fountaingrove senior home that cared for his 92-year-old grandmother, who was inside as flames from the fast-moving Tubbs fire advanced on the Santa Rosa facility.
Horsman rescued his grandmother and collected six other residents at Oakmont of Villa Capri, driving them down the hill to safety in a facility van before flames prevented him from returning for more people, according to new claims advanced this week in an amended lawsuit against the care home’s owners and operators.
Horsman feared everyone left at Villa Capri was dead and that he too wouldn’t make it out alive, according to the amended complaint.
“When he got to Villa Capri he saw a wall of flames and assumed at that point that all of the residents that had been left behind had died,” the suit said. He turned the van around and “because of the flames he called his pregnant wife to say goodbye to her.”
Horsman, 36, of Santa Rosa, his grandmother Inez Glynn, and another Villa Capri resident, Viola Sodini, 83, are among the newest plaintiffs in an expanded lawsuit filed this week in Sonoma County Superior Court against Villa Capri and two companies that own and operate the facility, Oakmont Senior Living and Oakmont Management Group. An adjacent facility, Oakmont of ?Varenna, owned and operated by the same companies, also is being sued by a resident who claimed she was left behind by staff as the fire approached.
The case is not associated with the Santa Rosa retirement community of Oakmont, which is located in Sonoma Valley, 7 miles to the south.
The suit, originally filed in November with four plaintiffs, now involves a total of 17 Villa Capri residents and family members. They claim that staff members at Villa Capri, a high-end residential care facility, abandoned at least a third of the nearly 70 residents as the Tubbs fire roared into Santa Rosa on Oct. 9. The plaintiffs claim they managed to escape with the help of relatives before the Fountaingrove Parkway facility was destroyed.
“We’re learning more and more about what happened that night and more and more about the heroics of the families and the lack of action by staff,” said San Francisco attorney Kathryn Stebner, representing the plaintiffs.
Representatives of Oakmont Senior Living and Oakmont Management Group and their attorney did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Company officials after the fire said “emergency authorities” prevented staff from returning up the hill to evacuate remaining residents.
Company attorneys in February filed a court response, saying the suit had no merit, that residents and family members lacked legal standing as residents were bound by a “valid and enforceable arbitration agreement.” The response also blamed residents for any harm resulting from the evacuation, saying they didn’t take adequate precautions.
A Sonoma County judge last month set an Aug. 3 trial, the first stemming from the historic fires that destroyed nearly 5,300 homes and killed 24 people in Sonoma County.
No residents from Villa Capri died in the firestorm. Three former residents who were plaintiffs, all in their 80s and 90s, have since died, and the lawsuit claims those deaths were hastened by trauma resulting from the company’s alleged failure to safely evacuate the residents.
Residents paid up to $11,000 a month to live at the 63-unit facility, where many of the seniors suffered from dementia and other disabilities, needing wheelchairs, walkers or canes to get around, according to the suit. One of the deceased plaintiffs, a woman who was blind and living with dementia, broke her hip in a fall at an evacuation shelter, according to the lawsuit. It seeks damages for alleged elder abuse, negligence, false imprisonment, emotional distress and wrongful death. The parent company named in the suit, Oakmont Senior Living, was founded in 1997 by Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher. It operates more than 20 senior living facilities in California from Redding to San Diego, including three that remain in Fountaingrove after the fire.
On the night of the firestorm, Horsman was among a handful of family members of Villa Capri residents who raced to the care home as the Tubbs fire spread from Calistoga into Santa Rosa, according to the lawsuit. Horsman arrived about 2:45 a.m. to look for his grandmother, who is hard of hearing and uses a walker and wheelchair. He found the building dark from lack of power and no official in charge of an evacuation, the suit claims. Using a flashlight he made his way to the memory care ward, where he got two people from their beds and wheeled them to the lobby. The air was increasingly smoky inside, and Horsman told workers they needed to get people out of the facility, according to the suit.