Caretaker explains why she left disabled man to die in hot SUV

Debra King, 56, is on trial this week in death of Terrance Sanders, a mentally disabled man found dead in a hot SUV in 2013.
Debra King, 56, is on trial this week in death of Terrance Sanders, a mentally disabled man found dead in a hot SUV in 2013.

Questioned by Arlington detectives in July 2013 after she left a mentally challenged man in an SUV on a hot day and he died, Debra King said that it had happened because she had been tired and sleep-deprived, according to evidence presented Wednesday in her trial for manslaughter.

Terrance Sanders, 29, a severely mentally disabled man believed to have an IQ of 19, was found dead in the Honda CR-V about five hours after King left him there parked outside an Arlington group home on July 25, 2013. King, 56, is on trial this week in a Tarrant County courtroom.

Prosecutors Albert Roberts and Peter Gieseking and King’s attorneys, Reagan Wynn and Jeff Kearney, will present closing arguments Thursday morning.

On Wednesday, prosecutors played King’s hourlong interview with Arlington police detectives from 2013.

At the time of Sanders’ death, King was working an overnight shift at a south Arlington group home, caring for Sanders and two other disabled men. Her morning routine included taking the three men to an adult day-care facility in Grand Prairie.

Left in an SUV

But on the day of Sanders’ death, she told police, she forgot to take Sanders inside the group home. Instead she returned to the vehicle — with Sanders still sitting in the seat behind her — and drove about 20 minutes back to the group home on Eldorado Drive.

When she arrived about 10 a.m., she went inside, still not realizing that Sanders remained in the vehicle, she told police. She finished a few household duties before going home.

About 3 p.m., an evening worker got inside the CR-V to go back and pick up the men. The worker, Ian Hosu-Porbley, testified Tuesday that when he adjusted the rear view mirror, he saw a hand propped up against the back of his seat. He found Sanders, who was motionless.

Emergency personnel arrived and Sanders was pronounced dead.

It was over 90 degrees outside and probably 130 to 150 degrees in the car, Arlington Fire Department Capt. Mark Maginnis testified Tuesday.

‘I was so tired’

“I don’t know what happened,” King told detectives in an interview about two hours after Sanders was found, according to the recording played Wednesday.

“I was so tired” that morning, she told them. She said that she had been suffering from insomnia and that “I never get enough sleep.”

One detective asked asked whether King could see the back of the small SUV.

“Not right behind me I can’t. I just get in the car and go,” she said.

Asked whether she heard Sanders on the drive back to the group home, she said, “He doesn’t make noises.”

King’s attorneys called several of her family members to the stand Wednesday afternoon, including her parents and a sister. They testified that King is caring and ethical.

“I think it was a terrible accident,” said her father, Charles Brockenbush. “I don’t see what [punishing her] accomplishes. She’s had 3  1/2 years of this and all it has done is caused her depression.”