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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Guilty plea in care home death

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

A former adult care home operator will spend 90 days in prison after pleading guilty yesterday to charges stemming from the death of a 102-year-old resident.

Virginia T. Bigornia, 59, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault by omission, a section of the law that punishes reckless conduct that causes serious injury. The victim, Ushi Kaneshiro, died April 9, 2002, after being rushed from Bigornia's Waipahu care home to St. Francis Medical Center-West.

Bigornia was arrested for investigation of second-degree murder in January, but she made a deal with the state attorney general's office, said deputy attorney general Michael Parrish. There was not enough evidence to support a murder charge, he said.

Bigornia's guilty plea also carries five years' probation, restitution to Kaneshiro's family, 100 hours of community service and an agreement that she not work in or operate a care home until she has completed probation, Parrish said. She will start serving it sometime in January 2004.

"It's very clear that public awareness and the increased tenacity of the medical examiner's office, the prosecutor's office, Honolulu Police Department and Adult Protective Services came into play," Parrish said. "We are hoping the collaboration continues so the attorney general can continue to prosecute these kinds of cases."

In court yesterday, Bigornia told Circuit Judge Dan Kochi that she "tried to take good care" of Kaneshiro.

"She got sick, and I failed to bring her to the doctor," Bigornia said. "I called 911 that morning, but it was too late already, and she died."

Kaneshiro, a great-great-grandmother, was the retired owner of Iwilei Chop Suey.

During an autopsy, the Honolulu medical examiner found that she suffered from infected decubitus ulcers that were the size of Kaneshiro's fist. They were so deep, bone was visible.

Her room smelled from the infection. Somehow, one of her toes had been cut open, and investigators found a trail of blood through the care home.

The cause of death was elderly neglect, which led to decubitus ulcers and a poisoning of the blood called septicemia, according to the medical examiner's autopsy report. Pneumonia was a contributing factor. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

"We can say, that within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that decubitus ulcers were of a serious nature for a period of at least two weeks prior to her death," Parrish said.

Bigornia voluntarily closed her care home after an investigation by the Department of Health confirmed neglect, said Dianne Okumura, chief of the Office of Health Care Assurance, which licenses adult residential care homes.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.