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How police tried to check on May's welfare

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of May 16, 2013)

Since Marbrisa resident George May’s death was ruled a homicide and his home healthcare nurse Gina Albrecht was charged with aggravated manslaughter, many are asking: With police aware of the potentially disastrous situation for May, why didn’t they intervene and get Albrecht charged or fired sooner?

“It was hugely frustrating for us that we couldn’t do more,” said Indian River Shores police Chief Rob Stabe.

What his agency could do, however, was go to May’s home four times to check on him when friends and neighbors called to express concern over Albrecht.  They also reported Albrecht to the state Department of Children and Families and to the Elderly Abuse Hotline to get the legal ball rolling to remove Albrecht from the home.

But 81-year-old George May died before that happened.

The police visits are called “welfare checks,” said Stabe, and they’re business as usual for all law enforcement agencies – including the sheriff’s office and Vero Beach police – in Indian River County.

“All of us send an officer out to check if we get a call from a family member, friend or neighbor concerned about an elderly person’s welfare,” said Stabe.

The first time Shores police went to May’s home was a week before he hired Albrecht in June 2011. The police report says officers found May on the floor and unable to get up.

After they helped him, May insisted he was fine, and police left.

The second time police went to the house was after Albrecht had been working for May for almost four months. The visit was in response to a call from May’s neighbor reporting that a family – the Albrechts – had  moved in and were taking advantage of May.

At that visit, Shores police say they met Gina and Ryan Albrecht who were there with their two small children. The incident report notes that May told police she was going to marry Gina Albrecht, who was a certified nursing assistant.

Gina Albrecht told police, according to the report, she didn’t live at May’s house. She said Ryan Albrecht was only there to oversee renovations. She told them her job was to help May with his physical needs and to keep his finances in order. They planned to eventually marry, she said, but hadn’t set a date.

Police made a note on the report that “further investigation” might be needed.

The third time Shores police conducted a welfare check on May was in November 2011. They responded  to a complaint called into the sheriff’s office from the Albrechts’ neighbors in south Vero, who said Ryan Albrecht was “boasting about his wife and him living with some rich old guy on the beach.” Ryan Albrecht called May a “cash cow,” the neighbors said.

A Shores officer went to May’s home and wrote that both the home and May were in “good condition.” The officer told May about the complaint from the Albrechts‘ neighbors, and May responded that they were just jealous that he was  “going to marry a 30-year-old woman in his 80s.”

“He also stated that he loved the caregiver and if he wanted to marry her that was up to him,” according to the report.

While May was diagnosed with progressive dementia by a medical doctor 11 months before, he had not been officially pronounced “legally incompetent” and still had a legal right to make decisions.

At this point, Shores police notified the state Department of Children and Families and called the Elder Abuse Hotline to try to get protection for May.

The fourth time Shores police went to May’s home was in March 2012, four months later, after a VNA home healthcare nurse called them. She said she had tried to make contact with May but his phone was dead. 

After that welfare check, May showed up at the Shores police headquarters in a wheelchair, driven there by Albrecht, who waited for him in his blue van. May told Shores police, according to records: “Butt out. It’s my life. If I want to give everything to Gina and marry her, that’s my business.”

Stabe concedes that unless a legal action paved the way for Albrecht to be removed from the house and May’s life, police pretty much had their hands tied.

Police went to the house again 11 months later and found May dead. The medical examiner ruled it a “homicide” caused by dehydration and starvation.

Shores police began an investigation, which resulted in the arrest of Gina Albrecht, who was jailed charged with abuse of the elderly and aggravated manslaughter.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t do more sooner,” said Stabe.