Woman gets probation in Hanover-area bed bug death

A West Manheim Township woman avoided prison time after she pleaded no contest in the death of a 96-year-old woman in her care who died from complications involving bed bugs.

Deborah Butler

Deborah Butler, 73, of the 2000 block of Baltimore Pike in West Manheim Township, pleaded no contest to neglect of care of a dependent person, which is a misdemeanor.

As a result of her plea, her initial charges of involuntary manslaughter and first-degree felony of neglect of care were dismissed. She was sentenced to five years of probation.

Plea: Butler was charged in February by West Manheim Township Police in the death of Mary Stoner, who was under Butler's care. Stoner died in February 2016 of complications from sepsis following a bedbug infestation, according to the York County Coroner's Office.

Had Butler gone to trial, she would have likely seen prison time, Common Pleas Judge Harry Ness said during Butler's guilty plea on Monday, Dec. 4.

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Ness said a jury would have likely seen the photos of Stoner's injuries.

"You would not have had an enjoyable outcome," Ness said. He added that the plea worked significantly in her favor.

In addition to the probation, part of her agreement included that she cannot be a caretaker during those five years.

Victim's speak: During Butler's hearing, a family friend of Stoner, Kevin Shaffer, spoke about Stoner.

Shaffer called Stoner a "kind, loving, lady," who could have lived to 100.

"She did not deserve this," he said.

He added that the bed-bug problem was almost "completely ignored."

"I hope and pray that this doesn't happen to anyone else," Shaffer said.

More:Guilty plea set in bedbug death of 96-year-old Hanover-area woman

Angelina Ortiz, Stoner's granddaughter, said Stoner was like a mother to her, because Oritz's mother was working.

Ortiz said Stoner, on her deathbed, told her that Butler didn't care for her anymore.

"I'm sorry, but you'll have to live with this for the rest of your life," she said.

Punishment: Oritz and Shaffer agreed that Butler should have been punished harsher. 

But chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker said the plea agreement was made in two parts: one was with the understanding that Butler agreed to never be a caretake, and the second that the family would not have to go through a trial and all the emotions that may come with it.

"The biggest factor is, she is not going to be a caretaker for anyone anymore," he said.

Barker said the Stoner's family was consulted before the plea agreement was made.

Barker said Butler allowed the situation to "spiral out of control," but said there was no malice in the crime.

“It’s a crime of recklessness, and that’s the best way to put it," he said.

Butler did not make a statement during the hearing. Her attorney, John Mooney, declined comment following the hearing.

Background: Butler, also known as Deborah Luckenbaugh, cared for Stoner for more than a decade, according to court documents.

After Butler closed Luckenbaugh Personal Care Home several years ago, she moved Stoner and another care-dependent patient across the street to her home to continue caring for them, documents state

Stoner, who was unable to speak because of a medical condition, was taken to York Hospital on Feb. 6, 2016, after two of her family members became concerned about a severe skin rash that covered more than half of her body, documents state.

Doctors later determined Stoner had multiple open sores and cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, and hospital staff notified West Manheim Township Police 

Stoner was released from the hospital Feb. 12, 2016, but was readmitted two days later after contracting pneumonia, documents state.

Stoner died at York Hospital on Feb. 22, 2016.

Police who searched Butler's home found bedbugs "scurrying" along the bedding of a then-88-year-old woman in Butler's care, documents state.

They also found bedbugs crawling on Butler's adopted sister, then 48, who has an intellectual disability, according to documents.

An exterminator told officers the bedbugs had been in the home for at least six months, according to court documents.

Barker said Butler chose to hide from reality by not addressing the issues.

“She had the duty to care as the caretaker, and she did not exercise that duty that she’s supposed to do in that role," he said.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser