YORKTOWN, N.Y. – The parents of Hank McWilliam, an 18-year-old who died while under the care of Constellations Recovery, have sued the owners of the former sober living residence, alleging that their negligence caused McWilliam’s overdose death.
McWilliam was a Rye High School senior when he entered Constellations Recovery on Nov. 2, 2015, at a rate of $8,500 a month. Prior to that, McWilliam spent two months in an inpatient drug treatment center in Connecticut, where he was treated for his addiction to Xanax, a benzodiazepine.
In the lawsuit, McWilliam’s parents, James and Catherine, said they were advised to send their son to Constellations Recovery, located at 482 Underhill Ave. in Yorktown, for a period of transition after exiting rehab. Constellations Recovery was a for-profit facility that closed shortly after McWilliam’s death.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 8 in New York State Supreme Court, alleges that the owners of Constellations Recovery, Tom McCrossan and Mark McGoldrick, made many misrepresentations about their facility, including their staff’s expertise with Xanax. McCrossan and McGoldrick have since sold the Underhill Avenue property.
McWilliam’s parents say they were told that their son would be watched 24/7 in all areas of the home, which are monitored by video cameras; that there was a zero-tolerance policy for illicit drug use; that residents would be subject to regular drug testing; and that residents had to abide by strict house rules. James and Catherine McWilliam also alleged that Constellations Recovery promised to notify them if anything was wrong with their son.
On the morning of Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, McWilliam and an older resident of the home could not be woken and slept well beyond the permitted house rules, the lawsuit alleges. McWilliam allegedly told staff that he had a headache and was not feeling well. That day, McWilliam did not attend his mandated activities.
Despite the “obvious possibility of illicit drug use,” the lawsuit alleges, McWilliam’s parents were not notified of his behavior, and Constellations Recovery staff allowed McWilliam to go to a vape shop.
Later that night, the lawsuit alleges, McWilliam and the same older resident fell asleep on a couch in the common room area and could not be woken by staff. The lawsuit alleges that Patrick McGoldrick, a staff member, did not intervene when he could not wake McWilliam and the other resident, who were both heard snoring loudly. According the lawsuit, snoring is a symptom of airway disruption and is an after-effect of drug use.
Around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15, the lawsuit alleges, Patrick McCrossan noticed that McWilliam was not breathing properly and was unresponsive. The lawsuit alleges that Patrick McGoldrick, who was not trained in CPR, did not administer any aid to their son. Constellations Recovery staff waited until 6:52 a.m. to dial 9-1-1, the lawsuit alleges.
Emergency personnel arrived at 6:59 a.m., when McWilliam was found on the living room floor “unresponsive, pulseless and not breathing,” the lawsuit alleges. He could not be revived and was transported to the hospital. On Dec. 18, neurological and radiographic testing determined he was brain dead. He died Dec. 21.
The Westchester Medical Examiner’s Office found McWilliam’s cause of death was an accidental acute etizolam intoxication. Etizolam is a benzodiazepine, similar to Xanax.
According to the lawsuit, the effects of etizolam, which McWilliam ingested while a resident of Constellations Recovery, can be reversed if recognized in a timely manner.
In the lawsuit, James and Catherine McWilliam seek compensatory and punitive damages from the owners, Thomas McCrossan and Mark McGoldrick; house manager Devin McCrossan; and staff member Patrick McGoldrick, for negligence, fraud, and pain and suffering caused by their son’s death.
In a response submitted Dec. 21, Stephen P. Falvey, attorney for the McCrossans and McGoldricks, denied the allegations. Falvey stated that the “risks and dangers” of the sober living residence were “open, obvious and apparent.” Additionally, he stated that McWilliam’s “injuries, if any,” were out of his clients’ control and not caused by their actions, or lack thereof.
“The defendants were confronted with a sudden and unexpected emergency not of their own making and the defendants’ actions were reasonable under the circumstances,” Falvey wrote.
He stated that the McWilliams are not entitled to any damages and requested the lawsuit be dismissed and attorney’s fees be awarded to his clients.