Pine City woman charged in drowning death at Braham group home

Rachel Kytonen

A Pine City woman is facing a felony charge of 2nd degree manslaughter after a man she was caring for in a Braham group home died after drowning in a bathtub.

Devra Cheyrle Stiles, 62, of Pine City, was charged Friday, Sept. 30, in 10th Judicial District Court in Cambridge with 2nd degree manslaughter-culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk in the Aug. 28 death of 56-year-old Gerald Edward Hyska.

Devra Cheyrle Stiles

Stiles was the residential program lead at the Project New Beginnings group home in Braham. The group home is run by the Minnesota State Operated Community Services, which is a division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The group is owned by the state of Minnesota with the property being privately owned and leased to the state of Minnesota.

Judge P. Hunter Anderson set unconditional bail at $12,000 or $4,000 with conditions during the Sept. 30 hearing. Stiles is subject to conditions of release that include submit to an urine analysis; no possession of mood altering substances without a prescription; no possession of firearms; no contact with the victim’s family; and no contact with any family of residents at the group home or employees of the group home.

Stiles’ attorney, Mark Benjamin, asked the judge to release Stiles on her own recognizance. Benjamin explained Stiles has worked in the field for 36 years and has no prior problems with discipline or negligence. He explained Stiles has lived in the area since the early 1970s, is married, and has two adult children.

He also voiced his opinion that he didn’t think it was necessary for the county to send four squad cars to arrest Stiles Thursday, Sept. 29, in her nightgown. He said the county could have issued a summons for Stiles to appear, and she would have.

Benjamin also explained since Stiles’ is no longer an employee of the group home and no longer working with vulnerable adults, there aren’t any risks relating to that matter.

“She’s taking this matter very seriously,” Benjamin said.

Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad said he would leave the bail amounts up to the court’s discretion. He also provided the court with oral notification that he intends to file an upward departure of sentence due to the vulnerability of the deceased victim, and aggravating factors.

Edblad said even though Stiles doesn’t have a prior criminal record, he explained the severity level of the case is similar or equal to criminal vehicular homicide or operation, under the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines.

According to the criminal complaint:

According to the criminal complaint, on Aug. 28, Officer Erik Anderson of the Braham Police Department received a call at 7:25 p.m. regarding Hyska not breathing and unresponsive.

Upon arriving at the residence, Officer Anderson observed a naked Hyska on the floor and Stiles performing CPR on him. After five cycles of CPR, Officer Anderson checked for a pulse or other breathing sounds. When Stiles said she could hearing something from Hyska, Officer Anderson applied AED to the chest of Hyska. The AED indicated no shock, and advised to continue CPR. While doing CPR, Stiles continued to state, “I’m sorry Gerald. I’m sorry.” At 7:35 p.m., Braham Fire and Allina Ambulance service arrived and took over the care of Hyska.

Stiles told Officer Anderson that she had put Hyska in the bathtub for his nightly bath when the phone rang. She went to answer the phone, and it was her son calling. She told Officer Anderson after talking on the phone she “forgot him,” referring to Hyska.

Stiles told Officer Anderson when she realized Hyska was still in the bathtub, she ran back to the tub and found him submerged underwater, at which time she quickly pulled him out on to the floor and called 911. She then began CPR.

As Officer Anderson was talking with Stiles, Allina Ambulance personnel told him they got a pulse from Hyska and would be transporting him to Cambridge Medical Center. At approximately 9:30 p.m., Officer Anderson was informed Hyska had died.

A postmortem examination was performed by Chief Medical Examiner A. Quinn Strobl, M.D., who noted Hyska was residing in the group home due to spastic quadriplegia and blindness. Dr. Strobl further noted that the postmortem examination identified multiple facial abrasions without significant underlying injury, which may be due to contact with the tub surfaces while struggling in the water and/or extraction from the tub. Dr. Strobl determined the cause of death was drowning.

On Sept. 26, authorizes received phone records from the evening of Aug. 28. The records showed that Stiles received the call from her son at 6:46 p.m. and it lasted six minutes. The 911 call Stiles made took place at 7:23 p.m. or approximately 30 minutes after the end of the phone call with her son.

On Aug. 31, Stiles’ supervisor, Area Supervisor Ronald Paul Rasmussen, met with Special Agents Gary Swanson and Mike Wold of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and Braham Police Chief Robert Knowles.

Rasmussen said at approximately 7 or 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 28 he got a call from Stiles explaining to him what happened. Rasmussen said Stiles told him she had been giving Hyska a bath when her son called on the house phone. She said she talked with her son for two to three minutes and forgot about Hyska.

When she remembered he was in the bathtub, she observed his face was underwater and pulled him out. She said she began CPR and after Hyska started to throw up she called 911. Rasmussen stated it was unknown to him the length of time between Stiles hanging up the phone and remembering Hyska was in the bathtub. Rasmussen further described Hyska’s condition as profoundly mentally retarded, as well as totally blind and a quadriplegic. He also said Hyska is unable to speak and unable to verbalize anything.

Rasmussen advised the special agents that the group home does have a risk management plan for Hyska that states he is never to be left alone during bathing procedures and is to be assisted by staff 24 hours a day. He said Stiles was fully aware of the policy and procedures for Hyska.

Rasmussen said besides Hyska, three other residents living in the group home are all severely handicapped and not cognizant enough to provide interview information, as they do not speak.

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