MESA, AZ — The family of an elderly man found dead in a transportation van outside the Canyon Winds Assisted Living and Memory Care facility are now questioning whether the facility followed its own protocols.
Ninety-year-old Lawrence Bearse was found unresponsive by a facility worker who flagged down a Mesa police officer in the area. Police say the employee told them the man had been left inside the transport van. Police and medical crews pronounced Bearse deceased on scene.
Bearse's granddaughter Kylie Bearse tells ABC15 her grandmother had just seen her "grandpy" at the doctor's office 20 hours before his death. They believe Bearse may have been left in the vehicle for at least 20 hours.
ABC15 meteorologists say the high temperature recorded that day was 109 degrees, but inside a hot car, it could have gotten as hot as 154 degrees.
Kylie said her grandfather suffered from advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. He was unable to communicate and was wheelchair-bound.
"I was hiking when I got a call from my father. He told me grandpy had passed away, then he said, 'but there's more.'"
Kylie said she was horrified to learn of the events that led up to her beloved grandfather's death. She spent the morning cleaning out his room inside the assisted living facility.
"I just want to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else ever again," she added.
Kylie describes her grandfather as a selfless man who loved his country. Lawrence Bearse was a retired Marine who served in Korea. He won a medal after saving a man's life. Kylie said her grandfather was an electrical lineman and saved a man who was on fire on top of a pole.
He also loved to play golf. "He was an avid golfer. He had 25 holes in one, which I always love to tell people because it's so unbelievable."
She said her grandfather was a man of few words, but when he spoke, he was witty and always had them on the floor with laughter. She also remembered her grandfather's generous pours, whenever he filled up a wine glass.
"He would get a jug and fill it to the top. We called it a "grandpy pour" and we still call it that today," said Kylie.
Lawrence started living in the Canyon Winds memory care unit in June 2020. His family who lives just a few miles away visited often. Kylie said they had done a lot of research before picking the right home for their grandfather. Now the family is waiting for an explanation from the facility.
"We're all still really, really angry that this happened. He lived this wonderful life, and he deserved to die in a respectful way. Not forgotten in the back of a van," said Kylie.
ABC15 reached out to multiple memory care facilities to check to see what typical protocols are with Alzheimer's patients. Everyone said they have stricter standards when caring for those who had memory care issues. The rule is to have "eyes on them every two to four hours" said one senior living facility employee who asked not to be named.
"We are all wondering how something like this could happen as well. We watch them so diligently," she added.
Now Bearse's family wants to know how no employee could have noticed or red-flagged that a resident was missing.
"He missed dinner, they're supposed to do bed checks, he wasn't there for breakfast. This facility definitely needs to revise its protocols," said Kylie.
ABC15 has reached out to the Canyon Winds Assisted Living and Memory Care facility multiple times for comment and left several messages. Four days after the tragic incident, the facility has yet to return calls or issue a statement.
Mesa police and the Arizona Department of Health Services have now launched an investigation into the incident. Police said they planned to interview many staff members who were working at the time of this tragedy.
ABC15 has submitted public records requests to the involved agencies and will update this story as we get new details.