Ex-DaVita employee says others put bleach in syringes

Kimberly Saenz. Source: Angelina County Jail.
Kimberly Saenz. Source: Angelina County Jail.

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Testimony resumed Wednesday morning with Nick Luker, a dialysis biomed, who testified that he saw others put bleach in syringes.

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

Prosecuting attorney Clyde Herrington pointed out that Luker was given a corrective action slip on April 8, before he was fired. The slip was issued because he failed to properly attach potassium bath to a machine, failed to use proper infection control practices, and adhere to some company policies.

Herrington also questioned the witness about his testimony to drawing bleach in syringes because Luker says he witnessed others do it.

Herrington referenced a transcript from Luker's interview with Lufkin police.

"Do you have personal knowledge of anybody doing that?" said Herrington, reading the question from the transcript.

In Luker's statement to police, he said no. Luker also told Herrington that he was nervous during the interview, as well as in front of the jury today.

Herrington pointed out there was a second opportunity the witness had to tell that information to authorities, but he did not.

Saenz's attorney, Ryan Deaton, told Luker to explain to the jury what he remembered about conversation of drawing bleach with syringes.

Luker said in a staff meeting with Amy Clinton, a former DaVita supervisor, they discussed drawing bleach with syringes.

"DaVita has hidden evidence and destroyed evidence," said Deaton.

The defense and the prosecution argued about evidence and testimony in the case. Deaton stated that the clinic destroyed a large amount of documents that could not fit inside the dumpster. Deaton also argued that the clinic did not keep the bloodlines of all patients who suffered cardiac arrests, as was testified as company policy. Deaton argues the company is using Saenz to cover up.

"They kept every bloodline associated with Kim [Saenz]," said Deaton.

"They kept bloodlines where there were cardiac arrests, except for Ms. Rhone," said Herrington.

Joanne Lewis took the stand as the next witness. She testified that she was working for a cleaning company in 2008, and she cleaned the Lufkin DaVita clinic.

Lewis recalled the night the clinic closed, April 28, having more trash to clean up.

"There was a little more trash than normal from that night," said Lewis.

While there was more trash present, the witness said it appeared to be mostly paper.

"There was two maybe three bags I toted out that looked like shredded paper," said Lewis.

The witness testified the bags didn't weigh any more than shredded paper typically should weigh. She also said she did not see any medical devices in the trash.

The defense called upon Vicky Sheffer, who testified that, she worked, cleaning the Lufkin DaVita Clinic.

She said she cleaned the clinic on April 28, the night the clinic closed.

"I personally threw away three bags myself," said Sheffer "It was enough that we could not shut the lids."

She said it was obvious to tell the bags had shredded paper because the shreds were coming out the top of the bags. Also, the bags, the witness testified, were not heavy.

"It was very dirty," said Sheffer.

She testified that there was human feces on the floor, some machines were leaking and there was evidence of urine in some of the chairs.

"Sometimes it would be sticky stuff, but majority, it was white," said Sheffer as she described what she saw during cleaning.

Deaton asked Sheffer about finding blood and bloodlines at the facility.

"Blood from the front of the lobby all the way to the back, drops of blood. I did find IVs in the sink," said Sheffer.

Sheffer said she would have to pick up bleach bottles off the floor and measuring cups, which could be missing or on the floor as well. She said if she found blood on the chairs, they weren't made to clean it, so it would be left there. Sheffer said she cleaned the facility once a day.

The defense called upon Connie Baker as the next witness, an LVN. She testified that she worked for DaVita in 2008 but later resigned.

Deaton asked the witness about what she remembered from April 2008.

"I was aware that there were a lot of people coding on the machine, having chest pain, a lot of sickness going on," said Baker.

Deaton asked the witness about mixing her bleach bucket. He also asked her about her co-workers' practices of mixing their bleach buckets. Baker testified that she took her bleach bucket to the bleach and mixed it, as she was taught was the proper way to do it.

"I would see them bring syringes to the bucket and mix them," said Baker.

She said this practice happened often, however everyone was supposed to take their bucket to the bleach and mix it there. Baker said she saw teammates take a syringe to the bleach and fill it, bring it back to the bucket, and dispose the syringe in a sharps container.

"Were the people that you saw doing that, was that Kim Saenz or others?" said Deaton.

"Others," said the witness.

"Who specifically did you see?" said Herrington.

"I don't recall. It was several people," said Baker.

Baker said there were generally measuring cups on top of the bleach bottle for employees to draw bleach. However, she asked the coworkers she saw with bleach what was in the syringe. Baker said they would tell her they had bleach in the 10cc syringes.

"They did the shortcut of having the syringe and bringing it up. To them, it was a shortcut," said Baker.

"Do you know when exactly you left DaVita?" said Herrington.

"I left like a Thursday or Friday a week prior to the day DaVita closed their doors," said Baker.

The witness testified that she was not concerned about seeing co-workers fill syringes with bleach at the time.

Deaton asked the witness about seeing bleach improperly handled around the clinic. Baker testified she saw bleach rags stored in anticipation of patients getting off machines. She noted rags would be next to the dialysis machines as well as other places.

"I've seen bleach rags being put on top of the sharps containers," said Baker.

Deaton pulled out a dialysis machine for the witness to demonstrate where she found bleach rags laying about. One of the areas where she said she would see rags sometimes was the area above where bloodlines sit on the dialysis machine.

Catherine Pickens was called to the stand, testifying she lived close to Sharon Smith.

Smith previously testified in the trial, telling jurors that she was a nurse at the DaVita Clinic in 2008, working along with Saenz.

Pickens agreed that Smith harassed her and her husband.

"She sent letters to my husband in the mail, saying she was addicted to him, in love with him," said Pickens.

Pickens said Smith sent texts to her phone, saying her husband was too good for her. The witness also said Smith would use different Yahoo usernames to send her messages, and she sometimes wrote in Irish.

Deaton asked Pickens about an incident where Smith allegedly pulled a knife on Pickens' husband. Shortly after, the witness testified she received a 10 cc syringe, loaded with a clear liquid, in the mail along with an anonymous letter. The witness testified she took that letter as a threat.

"Do you have any doubt in your mind who that came from?"

"No sir," said Pickens.

Pickens said the letter was written along the usual lines of Smith's other letters.

"I think Sharon Smith is crazy," said Deaton.

Herrington argued that Pickens' testimony is not based on concrete facts relevant to the trial.

"Your honor, that has nothing to do with the DaVita case," said Herrington. "There are some things about Ms. Saenz that are not in evidence."

"The connection is that she [Smith] sent a full syringe with a threatening letter," said Deaton.

"Are you saying that because she had an altercation with a neighbor that she killed the people at DaVita?" asked Judge Barry Bryan.

"Smith sent a syringe full of we don't know what with a threatening letter," said Deaton. "It's similar in nature, that's why it's important in this case."

This afternoon, both counsels and Judge Bryan held an informal charge conference to work on the "charge to the jury" document. This document puts definitions to legal terms and lays out rules and laws that apply to the case, so that it can be presented to the jury to help them deliberate.

Deaton called upon Mark Kevin Saenz, husband of Kimberly Saenz, to the stand. Deaton asked Saenz a few questions about the computer that was seized from his Pollok home in May of 2008.

"It was a Hewlitt Packard computer," said Saenz.

Saenz testified that he had purchased the computer. Saenz said the computer was sitting out when police arrived to take it.

"In the living room, under the desk," said Saenz.

Saenz testified that the computer previously had never left the house.

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