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Parents file lawsuit over choking death of 21-year-old son at local care facility

Kowal 1.jpg
Posted at 11:52 AM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 11:26:03-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The parents of a 21-year-old resident at SAILS Westbrook Crisis Home in Bakersfield are filing a wrongful death lawsuit after their son, Ryan Kowal, choked on food and went into cardiac arrest.

During a press briefing held by the law firm Chain Cohn Stiles, Kowal's parents explained that he had severe autism and required one-on-one care “at all times”. They had several bad experiences at numerous care facilities, saying at one facility in Ukiah left him at a hospital, "covered in urine, feces, and his hair was falling out."

When they got him to the SAILS Westbrook Crisis Home in Bakersfield, they were grateful to finally have him being cared for in a home in town. That gratitude changed in June, when they got the call that Ryan had choked and was in the hospital.

"He was in the hospital for several days because they didn't know how much damage [was done]," said Ryan's mother, Treena Kowal.

Ryan's parents said after he was taken to the hospital, it was determined he needed to be on a soft-food diet. They said they met with SAILS who signed off on the additional care.

Now Ryan's parents say they're not sure if the proper care and training was ever given to those in charge of their son.

According to the lawsuit, Ryan's parents believe he was left alone with no supervision and was able to access what is believed to be crackers, ate a large amount of the crackers, choked and later died.

Attorneys with Chain Cohn Stiles filed suit on the parents’ behalf last week, alleging wrongful death, among other causes of action. A case management conference is scheduled in late June.

The lawyer representing SAILS tells 23ABC the company is 'saddened by what happened' and is looking into the matter, adding that the attendant 'responded to the incident, called 9-11 and did chest compressions' until help arrived.

"We couldn't save him this time," Treena said.

Ryan's parents hope that by filing this lawsuit, they will be able to bring overwhelming changes to how care facilities are run and care for their residents.

"I don't even know what to say anymore. I mean, we're here," said John, Ryan's father. "We're here and he's not."

You can read the full lawsuit here.