Crime & Courts

Padlocks And Toxic Fumes: Nightmare Conditions In South Carolina ‘Care’ Facility

Arrests in Orangeburg …

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Earlier this week, South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson announced the arrests of Estelle A. Hutchinson, 52, and Tracy T. Wright, 52 – both of Orangeburg, S.C. – after an investigation found five vulnerable adults residing in an unlicensed residential care facility in Orangeburg.

The investigation into this facility – located at 243 Rome Street – was conducted by the Palmetto State’s Medicaid fraud unit (SCMFCU), the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety (ODPS) and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (SCDHEC). It was initiated following numerous community complaints filed with ODPS.

According to Wilson’s office, these complaints led to an emergency SCDHEC inspection on February 15, 2024 which determined Hutchinson was operating an unlicensed Certified Residential Care Facility (CRCF) at the Rome Street location – where Wright worked as a caregiver.

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According to a news release from Wilson’s office, concerns over the resident’s immediate safety led to the emergency inspection. Upon arriving at the facility, investigators discovered Hutchinson and Wright confined four of the vulnerable adults in locked rooms and “prevented the victims from accessing basic necessities such as food, clothing, medicine, shelter, supervision, medical services, and a safe means of being able to get out of the building.”

The release goes on to say investigators detected a “strong urine odor” at the facility, residents reported “being hungry” and being prevented from leaving the building by “padlocks.” Firefighters with ODPS also identified a malfunctioning natural gas heater which had caused “a buildup of gas fumes inside the residence.”

This buildup of fumes necessitated the “immediate venting of the residence by emergency personnel.”

At the conclusion of the inspection, the five vulnerable adults at the facility were “taken into emergency protective custody by law enforcement.”

Following the arrests of Hutchinson and Wright, ODPS chief Charles P. Austin, Sr., commended the exemplary collaborative work of the joint task force which led to the rescue and successful relocation of the victims in this investigation. Austin said the safety and well-being of vulnerable adults is a priority concern for the ODPS.

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Hutchinson and Wright have each been charged with five counts of neglecting a vulnerable adult, four counts of kidnapping and one count of criminal conspiracy. Both were booked into the Orangeburg-Calhoun Regional Detention Center on March 19, 2024.

All of the charges are felonies and will be prosecuted by Wilson’s office. As with anyone accused of committing any crime, Hutchinson and Wright are considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system – or until such time as they may wish to enter some form of allocution in connection with a plea agreement with prosecutors related to any of the charges filed against them.

SCDHEC defines a CRCF as offering room and board while providing “a degree of personal care for a period of time in excess of 24 consecutive hours for two or more persons, 18 years old or older, not related to the licensee.”

CRCF’s are “designed to accommodate residents’ changing needs and preferences, maximize residents’ dignity, autonomy, privacy, independence, and safety, and encourage family and community involvement.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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