Family of autistic woman left in hot van had previous problems with caregivers

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by Jeremy Rogalski / I-Team

khou.com

Posted on July 25, 2013 at 7:35 AM

Updated Thursday, Jul 25 at 7:40 AM

HOUSTON -- The family of a 56-year-old autistic woman said there were signs of trouble by her caregivers a month before she was left in a hot van for hours on Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm still shocked, I still feel like I've been hit by a bus,” said Lori McGinnis.

McGinnis and her sister Syleta Harkins clutch hands tightly as their sister Rebekah Harkins clings to her life.

"We have so many questions,” Syleta said. “There's so many questions left to be answered, but what we do know is my sister is sitting in a hospital on life support."

The once sweet-smiling Rebekah Harkins who loved balloons, bubble baths, and painting her nails, now is unresponsive and in critical condition at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital.

She was left in a stifling van outside the Sean Ashley House, a center serving those with autism and other disabilities.

"It doesn't make sense," McGinnis said.

Doesn't make sense because the family said this was Rebekah’s daily routine. The Sean Ashley House would pick her up in the morning and take her to their day rehabilitation center for activities and games.

"And normally she would just get off with everybody else," McGinnis said.

The fact that their sister is ambulatory is why the family isn't buying that she was just left behind.  Another inconsistency is her injuries -- some appear to be non-heat related the family said -- like black and blue marks on Rebekah’s face.

The family said it wasn’t the first time. Just a month ago they noticed some injuries.

"She had some huge marks on her face and some hematomas on her knees," Syleta said.

According to the family, Sean Ashley House promised to retrain its staff at the time. But whether that ever occurred, is now moot.

"Is she going to live or die, and if she lives, how is she going to be," Syleta said.

With the unknown ahead, the family clings to the past, and all that was once good.

"She's really a special person,” McGinnis said.

“That's for sure," Harkins said.

In a statement, the Sean Ashley House said it is deeply saddened  by what happened and its thoughts and prayers go out to the family. It also said it is fully cooperating with police. Houston Police Homicide Division continues to investigate.

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