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Wrongful death suit filed against mental health facility in Burlington after teen’s overdose death

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A mental health residential treatment facility in Burlington is facing a wrongful death suit filed by the adoptive mother of a teen who overdosed on Fentanyl and cocaine and died while he was an inpatient at the Alamance Academy in March 2021.

The lawsuit has been filed by Martina Holcomb, who is described as the adoptive mother of Daniel Holcomb, then-15 when he died in March 2021 while he was a patient at Alamance Academy, a residential mental health facility for children and adolescents at 723 North Fisher Street in Burlington. The deceased teen’s mother is seeking more than $25,000 in damages under each of multiple alleged claims, including that the facility and its employees breached their duty by failing to adequately monitor residents.

Daniel Holcomb had an extensive history of behavioral and mental health issues that dated back to his early childhood, after he and his older brother were adopted by their maternal grandparents, Martina and Steve Holcomb, according to the lawsuit.

“Daniel had an extensive mental health history” that started at age seven with “defiance towards his adoptive parents and other authority figures” and later grew into “verbal and physical aggression toward his peers and staff at school and toward his family,” the complaint states.

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Those problems apparently intensified after his grandfather, Steve Holcomb, died of lung cancer in December 2019, according to the suit, which notes this took “a serious emotional toll on Daniel,” then 14.

Daniel Holcomb subsequently “exhibited an increase in angry outbursts and aggression,” to the extent that his adoptive mother, Martina Holcomb, began to fear for her safety, and that of Daniel’s 17-year-old brother, who isn’t identified by name but also lived at the family’s home, the address for which is listed in the court file as 105 Lookout Drive, Linwood, in Davidson County.

Daniel Holcomb was initially referred to a youth mental health services provider, Youth Villages for a Comprehensive Clinical Assessment, which recommended “a higher level of care for Daniel.”

On March 17, 2021, Daniel Holcomb was referred to Alamance Academy – where he was diagnosed with “intermittent explosive disorder, depressive disorder, impulse control disorder, conduct disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” and died 11 days later, after overdosing on Fentanyl and cocaine that he had gotten from another patient, the suit alleges.

 

Teen got vape pen and illegal drugs from another resident at facility
The staff at Alamance Academy found Daniel Holcomb in bed, unresponsive and cold to the touch, around 10:45 a.m. on March 28, 2021, according to the suit. Paramedics attempted CPR but he was pronounced dead within minutes of their arrival at the facility. An investigation by Burlington police detectives revealed that the teen had apparently used a “vape pen,” which SBI analysis later confirmed had contained residue from Fentanyl and another illegal controlled substance.

A medical examiner’s report ultimately revealed that Daniel Holcomb’s death was the result of cocaine and Fentanyl toxicity, according to the suit.

In the hours leading up to his death, Daniel Holcomb had gone to a different room in the facility, which the suit alleges had been occupied by a second resident, who “was not assigned a roommate for a reason.”

The suit alleges that Daniel Holcomb had gotten the vape pen and illegal drugs from the second resident. According to the suit, the second resident had been previously removed from another facility due to concerns that he “would harm someone or be seriously harmed due to his lack of regard for others, history of substance abuse, storytelling, possible gang involvement, homicidal [fantasies], elopement, and assaultive behaviors.”

The employees who were on duty the night of March 27, 2021 had noted that Daniel Holcomb had gotten up several times during the night to go to the restroom, and stayed there for more than 20 minutes at one point. When they knocked on the bathroom door to see if the teen was okay, Daniel Holcomb responded that he wasn’t feeling well, but “staff took no additional efforts…to check on Daniel at any point during the night until he was found dead at 10:45 the following morning,” the suit alleges.

Martina Holcomb asserts in her suit that a reasonable person would’ve taken “additional steps to ensure Daniel’s safety after learning he was not feeling well and after witnessing him staggering to and from the restroom,” but the staff at Alamance Academy “did nothing.”
In addition to the Alamance Academy, the suit also lists an employee, Mollissie Peterson, who is described as a program director for the facility, as a defendant.

Martina Holcomb contends in her suit that Peterson had a duty to take precautionary measures to prevent any harm to Daniel Holcombe or other residents of the facility, as well as to ensure residents were monitored 24 hours per day for their own safety.

“The facility staff allowed Daniel, the night before his death, to sleep in a room with a patient who the facility knew had a prior history of substance abuse and previously had coerced another patient to take drugs, which resulted in [an] overdose,” the complaint states.

The suit further asserts that the defendants failed to act when they observed Daniel Holcomb staggering from the restroom at approximately 2:00 a.m., “in a visibly impaired state,” and failed to have adequate policies and procedures in place to ensure that patients were screened and barred from bringing illegal substances into the facility.

Martina Holcomb is seeking more than $25,000 in damages under the following alleged claims for relief: wrongful death based on negligence; premises liability (by allowing the facility to remain in a dangerous, unprotected, and unsafe condition and failing to keep the facility secure and free from hazards); breach of contract (by failing to adequately monitor Daniel Holcomb and other residents); negligent infliction of emotional distress; and punitive damages.

The defendants had not filed a response to the lawsuit, which was filed last week in Alamance County civil superior court, by press time Wednesday.

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