Initial autopsy findings show that a teen who died in Ephrata over the weekend suffocated while being held down, the attorney for the teen's parents said today. Giovanni Aletriz, 16, of Allentown, died Saturday.
He was a resident of SummitQuest Academy, a facility that treats boys with mental health and sex offender problems. His death was the second one in two months at the behavioral treatment center.
Aletriz was taken to Ephrata Community Hospital after he became ill while being restrained by SummitQuest staff due to disruptive behavior, according to Ephrata Borough Police, who are investigating the death. He died at the hospital a few hours later.
His family hired an independent forensic pathologist, Dr. John Shane, to attend the teen's autopsy Tuesday. Their attorney, Peter Karoly of Allentown, held a press conference today to announce the preliminary findings of that autopsy.
Aletriz's death "most likely resulted in the victim being held in a face down position forcefully," Karoly said today. Lancaster County Coroner Dr. G. Gary Kirchner reiterated a statement he made earlier this week that no ruling has been made in Aletriz's death because drug and tissue tests are still pending.
"We have no position whatsoever," Kirchner said. "We have listed it as pending."
SummitQuest officials did not return calls for comment by press time. Karoly agreed that further tests need to be done, but said initial findings are indicating the teen suffocated.
Aletriz suffered a number of injuries consistent with that finding, Karoly said. The autopsy showed evidence of a traumatic injury to the left side of the teen's head, chest compression, lesions inside his shoulders, and bleeding near his shoulder blade, in his ribs and in his spinal area, the attorney said.
The teen, who was 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 260 pounds, also had bite marks on his lips and tongue and stomach material in his nose, also indicators that he suffocated, Karoly said. SummitQuest officials told Aletriz's parents he died from congestive heart failure, Karoly said.
Aletriz's mother previously said her son recently underwent an electrocardiogram, which did not uncover problems. Aletriz had lived at SummitQuest about three months.
He had been diagnosed as being bipolar and had struggled with anger problems, his mother said. "I think the fact that this young man, age 16, died in such a horrible way is outrageous on the heels of the death in December, just two months ago," Karoly said.
"We have heard rumors that things aren't well at SummitQuest Academy and will be conducting a thorough investigation." Another SummitQuest resident, James White, 17, of Philadelphia, died Dec. 12.
An autopsy conducted here showed he had an enlarged heart and died of natural causes. State Department of Public Welfare officials visited SummitQuest after White's death and found no wrongdoing.
Public welfare officials also visited SummitQuest officials earlier this week to look into Aletriz's death. Earlier this week, SummitQuest officials released a statement saying the staff follows a crisis management procedure developed by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's West Psychiatric Institute.
The techniques include ways to safely use manual restraint in the presence of a nurse. Manual restraint is used only when a resident poses a risk of harm to himself or others, the statement said.