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Exclusive: Elder abuse, negligence lawsuit filed against La Quinta care home where veteran was murdered

A new lawsuit obtained exclusively by News Channel 3 has been filed against Sunbrook Residential Care, an elderly assisted living facility in La Quinta where a Korean War veteran was brutally murdered last November.

On November 21 last year, Cristina Canimo, 32, of Palm Desert, was arrested and is now charged with torturing and murdering Ronald Clarke, an 87-year-old resident at Sunbrook. Canimo allegedly dumped Clarke's body in a trash can outside the home, which is within the Esplanade gated community in La Quinta.

Canimo, a caregiver at Sunbrook, is accused of using a knife, boxcutter, screwdriver, and hammer in the murder. She's now eligible for the death penalty.

The lawsuit alleges Sunbrook engaged in elder abuse/neglect, wrongful death, negligence, negligent hiring, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other complaints for damages.

It claims Clarke was improperly admitted to Sunbrook "merely for profits," then he was "simply abandoned" and left "with a single caregiver who was neither qualified nor in the right mind to care for him."

"How can something like this happen in an environment where you’re supposed to be employing individuals who are compassionate who have training," said Art Gharibian, the attorney representing three of Clarke's children in the suit.

He said they were hit hard by the sudden and tragic loss of their father.

"They were all close with dad; they visited dad; they were involved in his life," Gharibian said.

Sunbrook operated three facilities in the valley – all owned by Ron and Ramona Sykes. They are named as defendants in the lawsuit too.

They couldn't be reached for this story, but when we spoke with them last fall, they didn't want to comment.

Department of Social Services documents show the Sykes had their licenses for all three facilities revoked earlier this year.

The documents detail a history of abuse, including another resident allegedly suffering traumatic injury after she was "dropped during a routine transfer" in which she fractured her tailbone.

The woman was later diagnosed with 18 pressure wounds, some severe and requiring surgery. She died the next month.

DPSS wrote the Sykes "failed to demonstrate good character and a continuing reputation of personal integrity."

"We do think they’re liable,' Gharibian said. "There are a lot of things that they could have done, should have done, to prevent this​."

He hopes to tap into Sunbrook's liability insurance. They're required by California law to carry a policy for $1 million to $3 million. But in the fine print, he found a cap limiting Sunbrook to just $100,000.

"Which we believe is insufficient and actually in violation of state law," Gharibian said.

News Channel 3's Jake Ingrassia has an exclusive report with full details tonight at 10 and 11 p.m.

You can reach Jake on TwitterFacebook or email him at jake.ingrassia@kesq.com.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.

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