PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A Pinellas County man whose job it was to help people with disabilities now faces charges in connection to the death of a patient he was caring for earlier this year.

  • Victim John LaPointe, 35, died in May
  • LaPointe suffered from Down Syndrome, was non-verbal, hearing impaired
  • Joshua Russell, 26, charged with 1 count of aggravated manslaughter
  • More Pinellas County stories

Joshua Russell, 26, was arrested Friday and charged with one count of aggravated manslaughter of a disabled adult in connection to the death of John LaPointe, 35, on May 9, 2019. 

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, on that late afternoon in May, deputies responded to the area of 82nd Avenue and Oakhurst Road in Seminole for the report of an unresponsive man in a vehicle.

When they arrived, paramedics were already on the scene, where they pronounced LaPointe dead.

Detectives said LaPointe suffered from Down syndrome. He was reportedly non-verbal, hearing impaired, and had the cognitive ability of a 1-year-old.

How it happened

LaPointe lived at Crossroads of Pinellas, a group home in Seminole. Russell was employed at the group home, and on the afternoon of LaPointe's death, he drove LaPointe to a doctor's appointment in the group home's van.

Detectives investigating LaPointe's death learned that after the appointment, Russell decided to stop at his home while driving LaPointe back to Crossroads. While at home, he ingested two packages of Kratom, a substance made from a tree sometimes used as a recreational drug.

"When [Russell] went into the home, he told detectives that he "parachuted" two packages of Kratom by wrapping the powdered Kratom in toilet paper and swallowing the Kratom," Sheriff Bob Gualtieri explained while discussing the arrest Friday. "Russell told detectives he used the Kratom to feel awake and alert."

One doctor Spectrum News spoke to, Dr. Gerald Fitzgerald of Fitztropics Medical, said that alertness is supposed to be the effect of Kratom when used in small doses.

However, "[I]n the higher doses, like 15 grams or more, it makes you sleepy and wanting to fall asleep, tired, and it makes you quit breathing — respiratory depression," Fitzgerald explained. 

Russell then returned to the van, where LaPointe was still strapped into the back seat, and began driving back to Crossroads. He told detectives he began feeling and tired and nauseous, however, so he turned around, returned to the house, parked in the driveway, turned the van off, and took a nap, all while LaPointe was still in the back seat.

Russell said when he woke two to three hours later, the inside of the van was hot and he was covered in sweat. He then saw LaPointe slumped over and unresponsive in his seat.

"Remember, Mr. Lapointe’s 35 years old, but he’s non-verbal and can't care for himself and has the cognitive ability of a 1-year-old, so as he was sitting in there and that van got extremely hot, there was nothing he could do," Gualtieri said. "He couldn’t try to wake up Russell, he couldn’t do anything to help himself."

Panic, threat of suicide

Russell told detectives he unsuccessfully attempted CPR on LaPointe, then went back in the house and retrieved a gun with the intent to kill himself. He called his mother, also an employee at Crossroads, and explained to her what had happened as well as his suicidal intentions.

His mother convinced him to pull over and stop the van, according to detectives. She then responded to where he stopped and called 911.

Detectives estimated the temperature inside the van at 125 degrees when LaPointe died. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner determined his cause of death was hyperthermia.

Russell has bonded out of jail since his arrest Friday.