ANGELINA COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Deputies with the Angelina County Sheriff's Office arrested two Lufkin hospice workers in the Zavalla area after a family reported they showed up at their house drunk to pronounce a family member dead early Friday.
Amanda Wilkerson Gardner, 41, and Amanda Ebarb Meshell, 33, are each charged with public intoxication.
According to a sheriff's office report, Meshell was the nurse and Gardner was an office manager. They went to a hospice call on Lake Road in the Zavalla-area after the family reported Linda Havard had died in the home.
When they arrived, the family realized they were both intoxicated and called the sheriff's office.
"It was like a nightmare," said Tammie Bussey, Havard's sister. "When she hugged my neck, I smelled the alcohol. She reeked of alcohol."
According to the report, the family tried to keep the duo, who were in a Nissan Sentra, from leaving by driving in front of them. But the duo managed to get around them and headed toward the Zavalla city limits. A deputy was able to catch up to them on State Highway 63.
The deputy was able to pull them over and reported seeing an open bottle of Michelob Ultra on the floorboard. He said Gardner was the driver and both admitted to drinking, but neither admitted to drinking in the car.
They said they had been at Casa Ole at 8:30 p.m. and were drinking margaritas. The deputy reported finding a receipt from 11 p.m. in the vehicle and it was for Chex Mix, lime salt and a six-pack of beer.
Gardner said she was an office manager for the hospice company and Meshell was a nurse. They said they were at Casa Ole when they got the death call, so they left for the home.
"How could you come out here to do this job and be drunk?" Bussey said.
Havard's daughter, Angela Yarbrough, said she tried to take a picture of an empty beer bottle, but instead she accidentally began to record a conversation with the two workers.
The deputy arrested both for public intoxication. Capt. Alton Lenderman said a driving while intoxicated charge is possible for Gardner.
"I'm upset that your job is hospic,e and your job is to console us and help us through this," Yarbrough said.
Justo Mendez, the chief legal compliance and human resources officer for the hospice company, Harbor House, said both employees will be terminated and the company will cover the cost of the funeral services for the family.
"We will take steps to make this right, including covering the cost of the funeral services," Mendez said. "That's the least we can do."
Mendez said the call came to the nurse around midnight. While he could not confirm the names of the workers, he said the director of nursing was on-call. What that means is she was on standby with a cellphone in hand and was to be the first responder if there was a call. Mendez said the office manager has no role in the call.
"My assumption is they had been socializing and having drinks," Mendez said. "They made a horrible decision. When you're on-call, you can't drink. That's not only a rule for Harbor Hospice but for the license."
"She made three bad decisions," Mendez said. "The first bad decision was drinking while on-call. The second was going to the patient's home. She should have called her supervisor and admitted to drinking. The third bad decision was taking the office coordinator with her."
Mendez said the family called Harbor House and reported what happened. The company then called law enforcement and asked them to impound the car.
"We completely agree with the decision to arrest them," he said. "We want to use this as a teachable moment for the rest of the workforce. But our priority is with the family."
Mendez said both workers were in good standing before Friday.
"That nurse is one of our star performers, up until last night," he said. "We were very happy with her. The office coordinator was new, but she had been performing great."
"No disciplinary action can fix this," Mendez said. "Termination is the only option. They failed the patient."
"People elect to use hospice, so they don't have to have squad cars in their driveway when someone dies," Lenderman said. "That's the ironic thing about it. This family had to call us to handle the hospice."
"You think you've got people that care that's coming to take care of your people and console your family and something like this happens," Bussey said.
Below is a partial transcipt between Yarbrough and the workers:
Worker: "No ma'am, I drove. I drove here. Yes ma'am I did. And I'm driving out of here."
Worker: "Was your mother not respectfully removed? That's all I got to say. Was she not? Please tell me! Please tell me! Was she not respectfully removed by everybody?"
Yarbrough: "No she was not. Because you were under the influence of alcohol."
Worker: "And how are you going to judge that?"
Yarbrough: "Your car says Harbor Hospice. Is Harbor Hospice going to allow you to drink in the car?"
Worker: "Who are you to judge that? Who made you the police?"
Yarbrough: "You're at her house."
Worker: "You're smoking cigarettes right in front of your dying sister!"
Yarbrough: "Smoking cigarettes is not illegal."
Worker: "I mean, we can go on like this all day long, all day long."
Yarbrough: "What happens if we let you leave in this car, and you go down the highway and you kill somebody?"
Worker: "Nobody's killing anybody, honey."
Yarbrough: "That's what they all say. That's what every person has ever said."
Worker: "You're a professor? You're a professor."
Worker: "You are stupid, God!"
Yarbrough: "Whose beer is in that in the car right there?"
Worker: "That's to take home after [inaudible]"
Yarbrough: "It's empty, the lids are off of it honey!"
Worker: "That's not… you are in a dreamworld."