Staff arrested in freezing death of nursing home patient

Published: Jul. 20, 2011 at 7:27 PM CDT|Updated: Dec. 15, 2014 at 1:17 AM CST
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Tumbleweed Nursing Home in Brownfield is now known as Apex Secure Care.
Tumbleweed Nursing Home in Brownfield is now known as Apex Secure Care.
Jon Kirksey (Provided by Lubbock County Sheriff's Department)
Jon Kirksey (Provided by Lubbock County Sheriff's Department)
Maria Briones (Provided by Terry County Sheriff's Department)
Maria Briones (Provided by Terry County Sheriff's Department)

BROWNFIELD, TX (KCBD) - Two people have been charged in connection with the death of a nursing home patient in Brownfield. Authorities are still looking for a third suspect, according to officials in Terry County.

Jon Kirksey, 44, and Maria Briones, 51, are charged with injury to the elderly, a third degree felony.

Willie Byers, 71, was found dead outside the former Tumbleweed Nursing Home in Brownfield during frigid temperatures on February 3, 2011. An autopsy revealed Byers died from hypothermia.

Police say surveillance video captured Byers leaving the facility unattended in the early morning hours. Byers suffered from Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

After his death, the Texas Attorney General's office launched an investigation into claims of neglect at the nursing home. On Monday, a Terry County Grand Jury felt there was enough evidence for the indictments.

Byers' nephew, Deion Marquise recalls his thoughts after hearing of his uncle's passing.

"To see someone one day, and get a call a few days later and find out that he's no longer a part of your life, it's actually devastating," said Marquise.

Marquise says the family has never received an apology or comment from Tumbleweed Nursing Home. The facility is now known as Apex Secure Care.

"There's no relief as far as the death and that situation, but there is relief in knowing that justice system is being implemented and working," Marquise said.

The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services also launched an investigation. Wednesday, a spokesperson for the agency told us they submitted a referral to the state nursing board letting them know that they 'substantiated claims of neglect' against Maria Briones.

An administrator at Apex told us Briones is currently employed by the facility and also worked at Tumbleweed. The administrator wouldn't answer any more questions or make additional comments.

We asked Marquise about his reaction to the arrests.

"I don't dislike or hate her as a person," Marquise continued. "I do dislike and hate the actions that everyone in that facility took that night February 3rd when my uncle died."

Marquise told us an investigator told him Kirksey and the third suspect also were employed at Tumbleweed and both resigned after Byers' death.

Briones was arrested Tuesday in Terry County and has bonded out. Kirksey was arrested in Lubbock County on a warrant out of Terry County. He remains behind bars in Lubbock according to jail records. His bond is $10,000.

Officials in Terry County tell us the third suspect is believed to be out of state.

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