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Woman arrested in San Bernardino elder abuse case also faces lawsuit over drowning [Updated]

September 6, 2009 | 11:21 am

The woman arrested Friday on 16 counts of elder abuse at a San Bernardino group home is being sued by the family of a man who drowned in a pool at another of her properties.

The lawsuit contends that in February, Eucevio Hernandez Vallez, 71, was drinking when he fell into an unfenced swimming pool at a group home run by Pensri Sophar Dalton in Highland. The facility was known as Sophar’s Room and Board.

Dalton, 61, was arrested Friday after police said they discovered squalid conditions and people living in converted chicken coops at her unlicensed group home for 22 mostly mentally ill people. She was later released but faces 16 felony counts. Code enforcement is expected to begin an investigation on Tuesday of other group homes Dalton owns.

[Updated at 3:25 p.m.: San Bernardino police conducted a search of the North Golden Avenue home Saturday. When Dalton didn’t immediately open the door, they pounded on it with a battering ram until she complied.

City Attorney James Penman said police visited seven of Dalton’s group homes in the area and found no significant violations.

“Our office will be visiting some of those homes on Tuesday and we will be bringing in the state licensing bureau,” he said.]

Lawyers for Vallez’s family said the victim had a history of dementia, severe alcoholism and trouble walking. He was supposed to be supervised so that he didn’t have access to alcohol.

They said that the first home the family put him in, also owned by Dalton, did not have a pool and he was moved to the other facility without the family's consent.

On Feb. 12, after a bout of excessive drinking, Vallez fell into the pool and drowned, the suit says.

"Sophar's multiple failures including transferring Mr. Vallez to an inappropriate facility without his family’s knowledge ... failure to ensure that he did not receive or consume alcohol and failure to provide appropriate supervision, caused Mr. Vallez to access the backyard intoxicated and unsupervised," the lawsuit says.

His body wasn’t discovered until 8 a.m. the next day.

Dalton, who was not represented by an attorney, defended herself in writing by saying Vallez was sneaking his alcohol, refusing to go to medical appointments and refusing to stop smoking. She called the lawsuit "bogus."

The suit was filed by Los Angeles attorneys Jon Birdt and Peter McNulty.

-- David Kelly