Coroner rules odd nursing home death accidental; state findings yet to be released

The coroner of St. Clair County, where an 85-year-old resident of a suburban St. Louis nursing home was found dead, strapped to her wheelchair at the bottom of some stairs, ruled Wednesday the death was the result of a fall, and not criminal wrongdoing.

However, the Illinois Department of Public Health, which also has been investigating the incident, said it would not release results of its own probe until mid-April, according to published reports.

Juanita Simmons was reportedly discovered dead early on March 12, strapped to a fallen wheelchair at Midwest Rehabilitation and Respiratory Center in Belleville, IL.

Surveillance video obtained by Coroner Rick Stone showed Simmons sitting alone in a hallway staring at a soda machine, according to the Belleville News-Democrat. A short time later, she was discovered at the bottom of the stairwell. The alarm on a fire door to the stairwell had been turned down, according to newspaper reports. Stone told reporters a nursing home employee who discovered Simmons' body allegedly stated she was afraid she'd lose her job if she reported the incident to police or his office. The body was picked up by a local funeral home, which reportedly was the first source to inform the coroner of the death.