DA wants investigation of man's death

The district attorney for Wayne County has asked the State Bureau of Investigation to review the actions of Cherry Hospital employees who played cards and watched television as a dying patient sat unattended a few feet away.

District Attorney Brandon Vickory on Monday said that he asked last week for an SBI investigation of Steven Sabock's death. Sabock, 50, died at the Goldsboro mental hospital after choking on his medication, hitting his head on the floor and then being left in a chair for 22 hours without food or water.

In the past two years, Vickory's office has dropped cases against at least six hospital workers arrested for assault. Vickory, prosecutor for Greene, Wayne and Lenoir counties, said Monday that what happens inside the hospital is often murky.

But on April 29, a security camera captured footage showing the hospital's staff ignoring Sabock sitting in a day room through parts of four shifts, according to a report issued by federal regulators last week.

However, the written account of the death that hospital administrators sent to the Wayne County medical examiner that month makes no mention of the choking or fall, saying only that the patient “was sleepy all day, and that oral intake was poor.” The pathologist concluded that Sabock died of natural causes.

Vickory said he was disturbed by the federal findings.

“Everybody's not sitting on their hands on this one,” Vickory said. “But there's at least two sides to every story, and we've got to get them both.”

Noelle Talley, spokesman for Attorney General Roy Cooper, said two SBI agents sent to the hospital are from the attorney general's Medicaid Investigations Unit – a team of lawyers, investigators and auditors that reviews and prosecutes the physical abuse of patients in facilities that receive Medicaid money.

In addition to Sabock's death, the agents will also review the assault of a teenager with developmental disabilities.