The mother of a 51-year-old intellectually disabled man who died in August after being left in a hot car in West Covina has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the organizations who were responsible for his safety and transportation.
The lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of Irene Melendez, mother of Timothy John Cortinas, against Easterseals, San Gabriel/Pomona Valley’s Developmental Services, Holy Family Children’s Care and Emanuel Arellano, an Easterseals employee who drove Cortinas.
The lawsuit alleges the named parties were negligent in keeping Cortinas safe on the day he died, attorneys said in a news release Tuesday.
“We don’t know why Timothy was never returned home that day, nor how long he was trapped in the car struggling for his life,” Neama Rahmani, of West Coast Trial Lawyers, said in the statement. “We do know, however, that organizations and individuals Irene entrusted with the life of her son neglected their duty to care for him, had no knowledge of his whereabouts for a significant period of time, and allowed his exposure to the extremely unsafe environment that led to his death.”
According to the complaint, Cortinas suffered from severe intellectual disability disorder, infantile autism, seizure disorder was “borderline non-verbal and had the mental capacity of a child.”
Melendez said she’s been struggling to cope with the untimely end of her son’s challenging but cherished life.
“My heart is broken. To me he was my purpose, and he was my life,” she told KTLA. “It’s just very hard and very difficult. I am going to the cemetery every week.”
Instead of taking Cortinas to a housing facility in Walnut where he lived, the complaint alleges Arellano drove to his own home in the 300 block of South Frankurt Avenue in West Covina and left Cortinas inside the car for several hours.
The temperature outside on that day in August reached close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the complaint stated.
A neighbor who saw Cortinas in the car alerted police, while Arellano never went back to the car to check on Cortinas, according to the complaint. Around 8:04 p.m. responding paramedics tried to revive Cortinas, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
“You have a special duty to these individuals, and to screw up on the magnitude – for lack of a better word – that they did is shocking,” family attorney Dean Aynechi said.
Months after Cortinas’ death with a criminal investigation underway, Melendez’s legal team said they still have not received answers and information from key parties in the case, like why Arellano allegedly drove to his West Covina home instead of dropping his client off on time at the Walnut group home where he resided.
In a statement to KTLA, Easterseals Southern California said the organization is cooperating fully with authorities.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of our client, Timothy Cortinas,” the statement read. “Our hearts go out to his family and all who knew him.”
The case was under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.