Pennsylvania to investigate 3 Montgomery County heat deaths

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare said it has determined that the three men found dead in stifling apartments in Montgomery County this month were in the care of an agency under its supervision, and will investigate their deaths.

The investigation will examine what occurred and any factors that may have played a role in the fatalities, said agency spokesman Mike Race.

The men, all of whom had a mental illness, were receiving services through the county's Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities, which is operated under state auspices.

"We do not comment on ongoing investigations, but obviously the death of anyone in a DPW-licensed facility or DPW-supervised situation is of concern, thus the reason for investigating such deaths," said Race.

The probe could take several weeks, he said. In addition, Montgomery County prosecutors are considering possible criminal charges.

A landlord found Jerry Snavely, 62, and John Malkasian, 53, in a Norristown apartment on July 9. The landlord and a neighbor said that all the windows in the apartment were closed and that a box fan was not turned on.

John Snyder, 56, was found in his bedroom in a Pennsburg rooming house on July 12. His windows were also shut.

All had schizophrenia.

Meanwhile, the investigation continues at Woods Services in Middletown, Bucks County, where a 20-year-old autistic man, Bryan Nevins, died of hyperthermia after being left in a van on July 24. Prosecutors are exploring possible criminal charges.

On Thursday, Woods reinstated one of two suspended counselors who had taken Nevins and three other clients on a day trip to Sesame Place. Nevins died after five hours in the parked van.

Woods cleared the male counselor after an internal investigation, said spokeswoman Cheryl Kauffman. The female counselor remains suspended.

State law requires that employees at residential treatment centers have a high school diploma or general education development certificate. Staff members are subject to criminal background checks and must complete 30 hours of training within 120 days after they are hired and before they begin working with clients.

Employees with regular and significant direct contact with clients must complete an additional 40 hours of training each year in areas of fire safety, first aid, crisis intervention, suicide prevention and other areas specified by the employer.

Pennsylvania also requires that all treatment center residents 21 or under be checked at least every hour whether sleeping or awake.

Kauffman would not provide information about the training of the two counselors involved in Nevins' death, saying it was part of the investigation.


Contact staff writer Julia Terruso at 610-313-8110 or jterruso@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Derrick Nunnally contributed to this article.