Caregiver found innocent in death of disabled woman
By Dustin Lemmon, Staff writer
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A Rock Island woman has been found innocent of felony neglect in connection with the May 2002 death of Victoria Tanaka.

Judge Charles ``Casey'' Stengel found Laquadia L. Gray, 28, of 718 5th Ave., not guilty in Rock Island County Circuit Court Friday. Ms. Gray had a bench trial earlier this week on a single felony count of neglecting a disabled person.

Mr. Gray was the caregiver assigned to watch Ms. Tanaka, who died when she fell down a flight of stairs at Sunset Heights apartments May 18, 2002.

The 49-year-old Sunset Heights resident was found dead in a stairwell. Ms. Gray reportedly had not checked on her for more than four hours, court charges alleged.

Ms. Gray said Friday afternoon that it's been hard for her to find work since the accident happened, but she hopes the verdict will help put those problems behind her.

``Right now, I'm just feeling shocked,'' she said after the verdict. ``I haven't been able to keep a job because everything has changed.''

Ms. Gray, who has six children, including a 5-month-old, said she is studying to become a medical assistant. She remained free on bond while awaiting trial.

Prosecutors argued in court that Ms. Gray neglected Ms. Tanaka by not checking on her every 20 minutes, but Ms. Gray's defense attorney, Rock Island County assistant public defender Vincent Lopez, argued that there was no written policy saying Ms. Gray had to check on Ms. Tanaka on a 20-minute cycle.

Ms. Gray was an employee of United Cerebral Palsy of Mississippi Valley when Ms. Tanaka died and was responsible for four residents at the facility the day of Ms. Tanaka's death.

When Ms. Gray went back to Ms. Tanaka's apartment at 7 p.m., the apartment door was open, and Ms. Tanaka was missing. Ms. Tanaka fell down the stairs sometime between 6:30 p.m., when another resident using the stairwell didn't see Ms. Tanaka, and 7:50 p.m., when her body was found.

A visitor found Ms. Tanaka strapped in her wheelchair between the third and fourth floors of the apartment complex. An autopsy showed she died of a traumatic cervical spinal-cord injury, authorities said.

Staff writer Dustin Lemmon can be reached at 786-6441, ext. 213, or by e-mail at