GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent County woman is charged with vulnerable adult abuse after her father, who had dementia, caught fire while left unsupervised around lit candles.
Ronald Guy Krueger Sr, 89, suffered third degree burns over 40% of his body. He died two days later.
The fire happened last fall at the Krueger home on 4 Mile Road in northeast Kent County, west of Dean Lake. But it wasn’t until April 17 that Krueger’s daughter and live-in caregiver, Kendra Sue Krueger, was officially charged with second degree felony vulnerable adult abuse.
“(It’s) just sickening that this has happened in our community, a tragic incident,” said Michelle LaJoye-Young, Kent County Sheriff. “This gentleman obviously was fatally injured in a fire that happened as a result of a candle being left … burning in the home. He was left unattended.”
LaJoye-Young said the department worked closely with Adult Protective Services while investigating the case.
According to reports, Kendra Krueger’s initial call to 911 came in at 4:26 a.m. on a snowy November 16, but the chain of events that led to it started hours earlier.
CAR CRASH KNOCKED OUT POWER
A car crash had knocked out power to Krueger’s neighborhood, prompting Kendra to light candles throughout the house.
Later, she allegedly told deputies she “didn’t mean to go to bed and leave the candles lit,”… but she “accidentally fell asleep.”
“Kendra reported … she awoke to screams coming from the kitchen,” relayed a deputy in his incident report. “She entered the kitchen to find Ronald lying on the floor with his lower torso on fire. She had jumped on Ronald and began to put out the fire with her hands.”
The sheriff’s report noted that Ronald Krueger “suffered from dementia and limited mobility. He was staying in the living room of the home, sleeping in a wheelchair and on the couch.”
Deputies responding to the fire described Kendra as “hysterical” and “extremely distraught/upset.”
Her boyfriend, Stephen Garcia, told Target 8 Kendra was “a very good caretaker of her dad.”
‘DAD WOULD FLIP HIS LID‘
“She loved him very much, and her dad would flip his lid if he knew they were charging her with this, with a crime,” said Garcia, speaking with Target 8 on Tuesday. “I mean she took care of him for five years the best she could, which was really good.”
Garcia said Ronald had suffered diminished mental capacity since undergoing surgery after breaking his hip.
He said the 89-year-old kept to himself after spending his career delivering bread products.
“He was a nice guy. He was to himself because he don’t know no neighbors or nothing, (but) he was really friendly and polite.”
Garcia said Ronald’s eating schedule made it difficult to watch over him 24 hours a day.
“He eats every hour so you gotta let him wander,” explained Garcia. “In the middle of the night you can’t possibly keep him in his bed because he eats and snacks every hour on the hour.”
Garcia reiterated that Kendra acted immediately when she realized her dad was engulfed in flames, jumping on him to smother the fire.
“Burned her hands and everything,” said Garcia. “It’s an accident … an obvious accident, and they want to send her to jail for it. It’s crazy. She loved her dad like nobody. Nobody could have taken care of him like she did.”
According to the felony complaint charging vulnerable adult abuse, Krueger, 57, caused “serious physical harm to Ronald Guy Krueger, a vulnerable adult, by leaving candles that were lit around a person with dementia and no supervision.”
STRONG URINE ODOR, ROTTEN FOOD, DIRTY DISHES
The reports submitted by Kent County Sheriff’s deputies also noted the home itself was in “complete disarray.”
One report listed “observations in the home”:
1. Dirty old dishes with molded food stacked and covering the counter and stove with the sink full of dishes.
2. Dirty cups in the basement with mold
3. Strong odor of urine coming from the couch
4. Rotten food in the freezer and refrigerator
5. Burnt candles in the kitchen and living room
6. No clean diapers
“Stephen (Garcia) said that Ronald wears diapers, but sometimes refused to wear them,” wrote a deputy, quoting Kendra’s boyfriend in a report. “Stephen said that Kendra took great care of Ronald, but she is horrible at keeping the house clean.”
Deputies also reported finding drug paraphernalia in one of the bedrooms, but Kendra’s attorney, Heath Lynch, told Target 8 he’s seen no evidence that his client’s struggle with addiction played a role in her dad’s death.
‘NO CRIME WAS COMMITTED HERE‘
“This was a devastating personal tragedy to Kendra,” said Lynch in phone call with Target 8. “She adored and adores her father. It has been our position and continues to be our position that no crime was committed here. If there is evidence out there that Kendra committed a crime, we have yet to see it.”
According to the sheriff’s report, which Target 8 obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the detective initially requested a charge of fourth degree vulnerable adult abuse, which is a misdemeanor.
But the office of Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker increased the charge to second degree, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.
Becker declined to comment on his charging decision.