HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The manslaughter trial for the former administrator of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills began on Monday.
Although 12 patients died at the Broward County nursing home following Hurricane Irma in 2017, Jorge Carballo was charged with nine counts of aggravated manslaughter of an elderly person or disabled person.
The state has more than 70 witnesses and 35 video clips to present to a jury of six people. With this evidence they hope to show that the administrator was negligent.
But the defense says their client is not to blame and is being used as a scapegoat.
“This tragedy was easily avoidable,” Broward Assistant State Attorney Chris Killoran said.
During Monday’s hearing, attorneys played phone calls made by employees to FPL informing them the power had just gone out to their chiller, disabling the facility’s air conditioning.
The storm knocked out a transformer linking the main air-conditioning unit to the power grid at the nursing home, sending temperatures soaring.
Twelve deaths at the center had been ruled homicides.
The calls were made on Sept. 10, 2017, moments after Hurricane Irma swept through South Florida.
According to authorities, patients began dying at the rehabilitation center days after the devastating hurricane struck South Florida amid widespread power outages.
Investigators said the center did not evacuate patients as temperatures inside began rising, even though a fully functional hospital was across the street.
Former Hollywood Police Officer Xavier Santiago testified on Monday. He said he began to order a mandatory evacuation when he was met with the stifling conditions and patients deaths.
“It made sense to get them out of the building,” Santiago said.
The state says the fault lies with Carballo -- an administrator and CEO of the center because he failed to act accordingly, getting the elderly residents the help they needed when temperatures rose to what witnesses said was more that 108 degrees.
The state says Carballo instead went home.
“This is a case of a captain who abandoned his ship,” Killoran said.
But the defense argues Carballo is no medical expert with an bachelor’s degree in biology and an MBA, and did what he could to help the residents. They said he was also in compliance with their emergency plan and the fault could lie with Florida, Power and Light.
“It was an FPL fuse, on FPL property,” defense attorney James Cobb said.
Judy Frum, a former Chief Nursing Officer at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, described the moments she walked across the street and into the nursing home to try and help in whatever way she could.
“It was really hot,” she said. “I can only relate it to a car door, that when you open it, it hits you in the face,” she said.
The home’s license was suspended days after the storm and it was later shuttered.
Last year, charges were dropped against three nurses after the defense said from the beginning there were issues with the case when Hollywood police brought forth the charges without the assistance of the State Attorney’s Office.
Defense attorneys said last year that their clients were not to blame and that there were a number of opportunities by other personnel to evacuate the 115 people inside the rehabilitation center after the power went out and residents were left without air conditioning for three days.
Testimony wrapped up for the day late Monday afternoon. The trial is expected to resume on Tuesday.