Families sue Beaver County home for disabled, alleging repeated abuse of residents
Four families on Friday sued McGuire Memorial Home in Beaver County, alleging two of its former employees physically and sexually abused 17 disabled residents between 2017 and 2018, causing the deaths of at least two of them.
The lawsuits contend Zachary Lee Dinell and Tyler James Smith, both former caretakers at McGuire, assaulted and made more than 150 photographs and videos, many sexually explicit, of them abusing residents in the home. McGuire residents have profound disabilities. Many are blind, unable to speak and cannot move without assistance.
Rob Peirce, one of the attorneys representing the families, said two McGuire residents — Brian D. Short, 36, and Nicholas E. Maravich, 39 — died in 2017 of pneumonia after developing an infection caused when they aspirated water that Dinell threw into their faces.
“We have filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of both families,” Peirce said. “We believe their deaths are related because both individuals had a feeding tube, and there is video evidence that shows Mr. Dinell throwing cups of water into the face and near the feeding tube area of Nicholas, and Nicholas died shortly thereafter.”
New Brighton Police have charged Dinell, 25, of Freedom with 47 felony and misdemeanor charges, including aggravated assault, neglecting the care of a dependent person, endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering others. He is being held in the Beaver County Jail pending trial.
His attorney, Steve Colafella, could not be reached for comment.
Police charged Smith, 29, of Cranberry with simple assault, recklessly endangering others and endangering the welfare of children. He is free on $250,000 bond and awaiting arraignment in December.
His attorney, Steven Townsend, said he plans to seek dismissal of the assault and recklessly endangering counts because the statute of limitations has expired. Townsend declined further comment, citing the pending criminal prosecution.
Peirce said the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI are investigating the allegations. A spokeswoman for both agencies said they could not confirm an investigation.
Attorney Tom King, who represents McGuire, said the facility was a victim along with the families and residents. Dinell and Smith have been fired.
He described some information contained in the lawsuits as “inaccurate,” but declined to specify the inaccuracies.
“We’ll be filing a response in court to these allegations,” King said. “We intend to vigorously defend McGuire regarding these charges. McGuire is a victim as well as our residents and their families. Our sympathy and our support is there for these families who are victimized and our prayers as well.”
McGuire’s website says the facility treats each person with dignity and respect.
That didn’t happen in the case of at least 17 residents, according to Peirce and attorney Shaheen Z. Wallace, who represents two of the four families.
Video recordings gleaned from police reports show Dinell throwing items at the head of resident Kasey Ferrence, according to civil complaints. Another video shows Smith jumping on an unnamed juvenile who was 13 or 15 at the time, according to the complaints.
“The minor child was videotaped and photographed being assaulted in his sleep,” Wallace said. “Feces was being smeared on him. He was put in a lift and there was video evidence that he was screaming at the top of his lungs and no other McGuire Memorial employees came into stop it.”
Catherine Wickline of Sewickley said McGuire Memorial had an excellent reputation when she placed her son, Nicholas Maravich, in the facility more than 30 years ago.
“I always loved McGuire, but I can’t express the level of betrayal that I feel.” she said. “Our goal is to make sure that nothing like this would ever happen to anyone else and their loved one going forward in our area.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, [email protected] or via Twitter .