DaVita workers give witness testimonies in former Lufkin nurse trial

Yasmine Santana
Yasmine Santana

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Day Four of the capital murder trial involving a former Lufkin dialysis nurse began with the defense attorney grilling a former DaVita tech about bleach measurements.

Kimberly Clark Saenz, 38, of Pollok, is charged with capital murder and five counts of aggravated assault. She is accused of injecting bleach into the bloodstream of kidney dialysis patients.

The state is pursuing the death penalty against Saenz.

Saenz was arrested in 2008, following a long investigation into five deaths at the DaVita Dialysis Clinic in Lufkin.

Five other patients were also injured.

Investigators believe Saenz injected bleach into at least 10 patients' bloodstream while they were receiving dialysis.

Yasmine Santana took the stand again, and Saenz's attorney, Ryan Deaton, questioned her about her secretarial duties in documenting notes during meetings at the clinic.

Deaton asked Santana about telling police that a teammate at the clinic said in a meeting they could use a syringe to draw bleach.

"I thought I heard someone said," said Santana. "It was brief, it was never elaborated, it was not agreed that it would be used."

Santana said it was agreed upon that they were going to use measuring cups, and they were going to label the containers.

Deaton then questioned the witness as to why it was necessary for her and the teammates to discuss the methods for measuring bleach, the week before April 28th.

"I don't know, I wasn't conducting the meeting," said Santana.

Deaton then asked Santana if ordinarily, they just dumped and mixed the bleach without measuring it.

"We always had a way of measuring it," said Santana.

Deaton readdressed the point that Santana said no one said not to use the syringes. Santana said she thinks she's the only one who even heard talk of using syringes.

"It wasn't Kim who said that, can we agree on that?" said Deaton.

"In my statement to the police, I did mention that I thought it was her. I thought I heard her," said Santana.

Because of seemingly conflicting reports, Deaton and Herrington agreed to play the police interview that was recorded of Santana giving her statement.

Deaton then questioned Santana about where victims say Saenz put the syringes, after injecting the bleach into their systems.

Herrington then began questioning the witness about what the victims told her when they mentioned Saenz had done something wrong in giving their medication.

"Ms. Hamilton said that she saw her go to the machine, and looks like she was administering the medication," said Santana.

Deaton cross-examined by going back to his assessment Wednesday, where he said it was not possible for the medicine to be dispensed over the patient's head.

Herrington then questioned the witness about what she was told when she went to attend to Learlene Hamilton.

Tearfully, Santana recalled the patient telling her when Saenz allegedly injected bleach.

"She looked at the clock, she was so nervous, and so she estimated the time. She said, you know, right before you got here. A little before you got here," said Santana.

Deaton interrogated her, asking to replay a video that was taken back in April 2008.  The tape concerned when Saenz looked at the clock when the incident happened, which was about 8 a.m.

Deaton demonstrated that if someone was going to do a criminal act, they wouldn't do it with everyone to see.

Deaton grew agitated when he asked Santana about specifics as to what she saw being put in the saline bag. Santana kept asking Deaton to repeat the question, at a few times saying she couldn't answer the question.

Deaton showed her the transcript in which Santana was quoted as saying she saw something being put in the saline bag. He made a remark that her memory must've been better four years ago.

Deaton presented a bleach bottle to Santana, asking her if that is the kind used at the facility, and she said that there are many used at the clinic, but at the time, she couldn't recall if that is the type of bottle of bleach that was used.

Herrington countered, giving Santana the transcript, having her read over it without his directive and to tell the jury her recollection of the incident, based on the transcript.

Linda Few James, daughter of Opal Few, took the stand next. Few died in April 2008. James confirmed that she was a dialysis patient at DaVita.  She said her mother resided with her three years prior to her death. James said Few was independent and was a vital part of her household.

Wanda Joyce Hilliard was then called to testify.  She is a life-long resident of Lufkin.   Herrington asked her of the many different ownerships the clinic went through, before resulting in DaVita, where she's worked for 20 years.

Hillard described the daily routine of opening up the clinic, and prepping machines.

"Are the machines frequently disinfected?" asked Herrington.

Hillard replied "yes."

She said the machine goes through a purification test. A pH strip is tested to make sure it is free of bleach and other harmful chemicals.  Hillard said this happens on a daily basis.

"When is bleaching done?" said Herrington.

"After all patients are out of the unit," said Hillard.

Hillard recalled an incident where Saenz took meds and left them chair side in a patient's room. The lack of labeling stood out to Hillard.

"It didn't have any labels on them," said Hillard.

Herrington asked Hillard what her response would be if she witnessed a co-worker drawing bleach in a syringe as opposed to a container, which was the standard.

"I'd report it," said Hillard. "Because we don't draw it in syringes."

Hillard says she did not witness Saenz using syringes at any point during the seven months they worked together. To her knowledge, Saenz was never written up either.

Deaton questioned the witness about employees being able to use each others password.

"How does that happen?" said Deaton.

"If they're standing close to them and can see them typing in," said HIllard.

Hillard said she witnessed this happen once because a patient care tech took her password  once before. The nurse that took her password, Hillard said, was fired.

Hillard testified that she is still a DaVita employee.

The state then called upon Sharon Deerman.

Deerman was an employee at the clinic, where she says she had a good rapport with everyone.

She said Garlin Kelley had been a frequent patient of hers, a very vivacious and outgoing man.

She confirmed that Kelley was a usual patient of Saenz's.

Herrington asked Deerman is anything alarming happened to Kelley that she noticed.

She responded by saying that his machine was going off, which happens every so often, but she got over to him and noticed he was falling ill. She said she turned the machine off and saw Saenz by him.

She describes Kelley's eyes as being heavy, as if he might pass out. She said she told Saenz to let her check the machine. She asked Saenz if she reported the incident, and Saenz said no.

Herrington asked her about the placement of the machines, in reference to how they were facing her. She described to the jury what she saw in Kelley's chamber.

She said she ultimately took over control. Kelley was sent to the hospital, where he later died.

"When the medications were given, does that sometimes cause for alarm?" asked Herrington.

"Oh, yes," replied Deerman.

Deaton asked about where Kelley was to Deerman. She said she had a good view of Kelley.

"If someone had come up to the machine ... and had been standing there for a second, that's something you would've seen out of your peripheral vision, right?" Deaton asked.

"Yes," said Deerman. Deaton then retorted that based on her testimony in a transcript, that's not what happened. Deerman concurred.

Deerman said she saw Saenz reach and turn the machine off, but that she didn't see her inject anything in the machine.

"Did ya'll have a rule at that time that anyone who had an adverse occurrence, that you had to save the blood lines?" said Deaton.

Deerman confirmed that the blood lines had to be saved if something happened to a patient.

"Did you see any syringes of any type attached to the blood lines?" said Deaton.

Deerman replied that she did not.

Deaton then used a floor plan of the clinic to get proper understanding of where certain areas were in the clinic.

Warren Gillery was the next witness called to the stand.

He answered questions about how he set up and tested machines at the clinic.

Herrington then asked the witness to look at records about two patients who are now deceased.

The witness looked over the record of Clara Strange, and Herrington questioned him about what happened during Strange's last dialysis treatment.

"I tapped Ms. Strange several times. I said, 'Kim, Kim, Kim, get over here, she's not responding,'" said Gilbert.

He said CPR was administered, but she ultimately died.

Herrington then referred to Thelma Metcalf's chart and asked about what happened during her treatment.

Debra Oates, Clara Strange, and Thelma Metcalf were all patients of the witness.

When another victim adversely reacted during treatment, the witness recalls attempting to get Saenz's help for the victim.

"What was Kim doing?" said Herrington.

"Smoking a cigarette," said the witness.

The witness recalls he thought it was unusual for Saenz to not come rushing or seem to care during the time.

Herrington asked the witness his impression of Saenz.

"She was a very nice person," said the witness.

The witness also testified that Saenz did have patients that she did not seem to like.

"Ms. Rhone, Mr. Bullard, Charlotte Davison, and Ms. Hall," said the witness.

The witness explained there was a meeting after work on April 28. When he didn't see Saenz, he said he called her, and she answered.

"I said where are you? Are you coming to the meeting?" he asked.

He says Saenz said she was not coming to the meeting.

"She said, 'I'm a chaperone at my daughter's field day,'" said the witness.

When he ran into Saenz, the day after DaVita closed, he said Saenz acted like she did not recognize him. She also was in tears, he said.

"She told me that she didn't kill those people," said the witness. "Seemed like she had lost all the hope in the world."

The witness also recalled Opal Few and Garlin Kelley as good-humored patients.

Deaton asked questions about break times, as he has with several witnesses. He asked Gillery about the amount of time taken on his breaks in his charting. He also asked the witness about times victims were charted to be ill.

"It's an hour and 10 minutes before Ms. Oates felt nauseous, right?" said Deaton.

"Correct," said Gillery.

Deaton turned to questioning Gillery as to why he went out to get Saenz, an LVN, off her break to revive a patient, when there were two RNs around.

The witness testified that he did not tell Saenz about the accusations against her when he went to find her at the Expo Center, following a team meeting, which he says discussed the deaths and possible closing of the clinic.

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