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‘Atria Should Be Embarrassed' Coroner's Report Confirms Walnut Creek Man Died From Cleaning Fluid, Not Hot Cheetos

It was not Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and it was not food-related.

After strange and conflicting information about the death of a senior resident at Atria Walnut Creek, a Contra Costa County senior care home, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit obtained the man’s coroner’s report to find out what exactly caused his death.

Since the Unit broke the story about 94-year-old Constantine Canoun’s death last September, Atria Senior Living, the company that owns and operates Atria Walnut Creek, has publicly insisted his medical emergency was food-related. The victim’s son said facility managers told him his father had a bad reaction to eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in the middle of the night.

In a statement Atria Senior Living provided last year, the company said, “It is our belief that this was a food related reaction … We do not believe the resident ingested any cleaning fluid or any chemicals.”

That information is not accurate, according to the Contra Costa County Coroner’s Office.

Portion of Constantine Canoun’s coroner’s report released by Contra Costa County.

In Canoun’s coroner’s report released Monday, the cause of his accidental death is listed as “caustic injury to pharynx, esophagus and stomach … [due to] ingestion of liquid cleaning agent.”

The bottle of all purpose cleaner Constantine Canoun’s son said a worker told him his father drank out of.

“Atria [Senior Living] should be embarrassed for keeping up this charade with the family about the Hot Cheetos,” said Kathryn Stebner, Canoun’s family attorney in their civil case against the senior care company. “It’s a slap in the face.”

Canoun’s incident happened just four days before workers at Atria Senior Living’s San Mateo location accidentally poisoned three other dementia residents. The company admits staff there accidentally served cleaning fluid to those seniors mistaking it for fruit juice.

Trudy Maxwell and Peter Shroeder died as a result. Their families are suing Atria Senior living in civil court and the cases are ongoing.  

Trudy Maxwell and Peter Shroeder

Canoun’s son said, in his father’s case, Atria Senior Living denied it was anything like what happened in San Mateo.

“My experience over the last 35 years of having cases against these facilities is that … a long-term care facility will fight something tooth and nail and will not admit wrongdoing,” Stebner said.

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit reached out to Atria Senior Living Monday. The company declined an interview, but provided this statement:

On the night of August 23, 2022, staff at the Atria Walnut Creek community observed a resident who was in distress. Staff immediately contacted 911, alerted the resident’s family, and the resident was transferred to the hospital. Sadly, the resident later passed away.

Today, the Contra Costa County Coroner’s Office issued a report, which we are in the process of reviewing, that classifies the death as accidental with a finding that the cause of death was “caustic injury to pharynx, esophagus, and stomach.”

We take any case of resident injury or death seriously. We have taken appropriate steps in response to this incident, including reviewing and reinforcing our training and policies on chemical safety. Our deepest sympathies remain with the resident’s family and all other families and staff affected by this.

Stebner said Atria Senior Living’s months-long characterization of Canoun’s death as food-related is going to backfire.

“This is going to just strengthen our resolve. This is going to be tried in a courtroom,” she said.

NBC Bay Area is waiting to hear back from the Walnut Creek Police Department about their investigation into the case. The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office said the case has not be referred to them as of Monday.  

Source: NBC Bay Area

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