Man with Down syndrome dies in 125-degree van; group home employee charged

A group home employee is in custody after a man with Down syndrome died while in his care. 

Detectives arrested 26-year-old Joshua Russell Friday morning and charged him with manslaughter after the death of 35-year-old John LaPointe.

The incident happened in May when investigators say Russell, and employee of Crossroads of Pinellas, was driving LaPointe back from a doctor’s appointment. Russell decided to stop by his home and told detectives he ingested two packages of Kratom, a substance made from a tree that is sometimes used as a recreational drug.

Russell returned to the van and started driving back to the group home when he began to feel tired and nauseous. He returned to his home, parked the van, turned off the vehicle and took a nap. 

He told investigators he woke up two or three hours later covered in sweat. He found LaPointe, who was still seat-belted in the back seat, slumped over and unresponsive. 

Investigators say LaPointe was non-verbal, could not care for himself and had the cognitive ability of a 1-year-old. 

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Unable to revive the man, Russell went inside his home to get a gun with the intention of killing himself, according to deputies.

Russell called his mother who was able to convince him to pull over and call 911. 

Detectives estimated the temperature inside the van was 125 degrees when LaPointe died. 

Russell was arrested early Friday morning and charged with aggravated manslaughter of a disabled adult.