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Couple Indicted in Katrina-Related Deaths

September 21, 2006|From the Associated Press

CHALMETTE, La. — The husband and wife owners of a nursing home near New Orleans were indicted Wednesday on charges of negligent homicide and cruelty in the deaths of 35 patients who perished in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Salvador and Mabel Mangano were initially arrested about two weeks after the Aug. 29, 2005, storm, but a grand jury was unable to convene for months because of damage to government buildings and the displacement of residents.

The couple, who remained free on bond Wednesday, owned St. Rita's nursing home in St. Bernard Parish, a coastal suburb of New Orleans badly flooded by Katrina.

Attorneys in the case were prevented from commenting because of a gag order.

The Manganos were originally arrested on 34 counts of negligent homicide, but the grand jury added a 35th count in its indictment because another body was found later. The grand jury also added the cruelty charges.

The indictment for cruelty alleges the couple "intentionally or through criminal negligence" mistreated or neglected 64 patients. It is believed to cover patients who died as well as those who survived.

The Manganos were to be formally booked on the cruelty charges at an Oct. 4 hearing.

More than 30 lawsuits have been filed against the couple by patients injured at the nursing home and the families of people who died there.

In a lawsuit filed last month, the couple sued the government, saying federal, state and local officials failed to keep residents safe and evacuate vulnerable citizens as the storm approached.

The Manganos have argued that their hurricane plan -- to keep frail residents in place with food, water and generators rather than risk moving them -- was a responsible course of action, and if the levees had held, the tragedy would have been avoided.

The Manganos' attorney, James Cobb, has stressed that the nursing home never flooded before Katrina and that the Manganos worried an evacuation could kill some of their patients.

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