Lawsuit filed in Clovis death

The family of a frail, elderly Clovis woman killed last year by her caretaker is suing a national caretaker provider corporation, the owners of a former local franchise who provided the caretaker and the caretaker for damages in excess of $25,000.

The civil suit, filed Tuesday in Fresno County Superior Court, comes on the heels of a murder trial that ended in September when Kelly Jones pleaded guilty to the voluntary manslaughter of 85-year-old Urelda Priscilla Stovall.

"There is definitely negligence here. The question now, is how far up the chain does it go?" said Fresno attorney Eric Oren, who is representing Stovall's three sons.

Stovall was found dead in her home Nov. 20.

During the murder trial, George Stovall testified that he drove to his mother's home that day about 8:30 a.m. He said he found a drunk and stumbling Jones inside. His mother had a kitchen drawer lying on top of her.

More than five times the amount of morphine needed to be fatal was found in Stovall's blood along with methadone, a drug used to treat heroin addiction.

Stovall had a prescription for morphine -- a pain medication -- but not methadone.

Police found traces of methadone and Xanax, an antidepressant, in Jones' blood. Jones' sister Pamela Ochoa testified during the criminal trial that Jones has been a heroin addict for 20 years.

Oren said George Stovall was referred to Visiting Angels Living Assisted Services through a hospice program.

In February, the national director of Visiting Angels issued a statement saying the home-care firm in Fresno was not affiliated with the national company. According to Fresno city and Fresno County records, the name of Visiting Angels Senior Care was changed to Fresno Senior Care in July 2006.

An attorney for the local company owned by Murray and Marian Veroff said that Jones was not an employee of Fresno Senior Care, but an independent contractor referred through them.

"Everybody's running for cover. It's turned into a shell game. The question is, who has some responsibility here?" Oren said. "This really seems to be a situation where this person should have never been put in this type of job."

Fresno attorney George Ball, who represents the Veroffs, said they shouldn't be held responsible. He said there was no way to know that Jones would have been a threat.

"Clearly she was a bad apple. But no one had notice of that. This is just an unfortunate incident all the way around," he said.

All evidence presented at the criminal trial can be used at the civil trial.

Oren said the driving force behind the suit is George Stovall's feeling of betrayal.

"He felt he was doing the best thing for his mother by getting her help. And that help ultimately killed her," he said. "How does a drug addict with a known history of drug abuse end up caring for someone's elderly mother? What kind of background checks did they do? It's a complete violation of trust."