Family suing GR vets home after homicide

Grand Rapids Home for Veterans
A Dec. 16, 2016 photo of the grounds at the Grand Rapids Home for veterans.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOO) — Five years ago, 84-year-old World War II veteran Andrew Ball died after he was beaten to death by a fellow resident of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

The picture from 75 years ago shows a smiling, baby-faced Andy Ball as he prepared to be deployed by the U.S. Army where he would end up fighting Nazis in Belgium and France.

An undated courtesy photo of Andrew Ball and Elaine Ball.
An undated courtesy photo of Andrew Ball and Elaine Ball.

After the war, he would live in Lansing with his wife Elaine working for General Motors before his age and his battle with dementia forced his family to look for a placement in 2011.

Ball wanted to be with fellow vets and his family believed the Grand Rapids home was the best place for him.

“They were assured that he’d be put on a secured unit, for his safety, and that he’d be monitored,” said Peter Smit, the attorney who is representing the family.

But Ball’s dementia was a problem at the home.

“Even though he was on a secured unit, he was allowed to — at all hours of the night — wander up and down the halls,” Smit said.

Ball would sometimes wander into rooms and try to get into already occupied beds — a not uncommon occurrence among patients in the Alzheimer’s unit. That would lead to problems with other veterans who did not appreciate having someone trying to get into their beds.

According to vets’ home records, it appears Ball had been assaulted before April 13, 2012 when Ball wandered into the room of an 86-year-old veteran who staff had already identified as “territorial and physically aggressive.” He had previously punched another vet in the face.

That night, according to an investigation of the incident, Ball was seen wandering the halls and then was found on the floor of the allegedly violent veteran.

“There was blood on (the assailant’s) hands, there was blood up and down the bed, Mr. Ball had blood coming from his nose, coming from his mouth, it was an emergency,” Smit said. “Following the incident, his face is barely recognizable for the bruising.”

The 86-year-old admitted to punching Ball and said he would kill him if he tried to get into his bed again, according to investigators.

Staff at the home did not send Ball to a hospital despite his injuries, according to a report from the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The staff decided that night that a “do not resuscitate” order filed by the family meant that they should not take measures to save him, according to state records. They showered him and put him to bed.

“Well, if he’s DNR, you don’t call the doctor, you don’t call the hospital. I asked them, I said does that mean if they fall and cut themselves, you let them bleed out? And they said ‘well, you wouldn’t do that,” Smit said.

The next morning, the doctor at the home sent Ball to Metro Health Hospital where he died a few days later.

The medical examiner would rule it a homicide, but the Kent County prosecutor declined to file charges due to the age and mental state of the assailant.

The family of Ball filed a civil suit within weeks of his death, but the state Attorney General’s Office has fought the case saying it was a medical malpractice case — that went to an appeals court before it was denied by the Michigan Supreme Court.

“Attorney General Schuette’s office has put up a spirited defense,” Smit said.

The family is seeking unspecified monetary damages of more than $25,000 and they also want assurances that changes will be made to keep this from happening to another family.

“It’s a homicide. And you ought to have sufficient supervision provision in a secured unit at a state facility where a homicide doesn’t take place from one dementia resident killing another,” Smit said. “And frankly, Mr. Ball is one of our veterans of World War II overseas – he deserved better.”

After his death, Ball’s wife died a few months later, the family says of a broken heart.  His daughter, Karen Keyworth, died on Monday.

This means yet another member of his family will have to be the named plaintiff in this case.

24 Hour News 8 contacted the vets home and the attorney general’s office, both declined comment.

Settlement negotiations continue and this case is expected to come to a Lansing court room on March 21.