Name: Van Ingraham
Died: June 12, 2007
Age at death: 50
Cause of death: Broken neck
Location: Costa Mesa, California, USA
When Van Ingraham was diagnosed with autism, it was still considered a very rare disorder. At eight years old, Van loved to play with his brother; an old photo shows him riding piggyback on his brother's shoulders. But he had never spoken, and had severe seizures. When he left the house to follow the yellow lines in the middle of the road–Van loved the color yellow–his mother grew worried for his safety and placed him in an institution called Fairview.
Van had a real sweet tooth; he ate his hot cereal with lots of sugar and cocoa, and loved sugary sodas. Van's brother, Larry Ingraham, visited him often at Fairview.
Van was very touch-sensitive. One morning, when Van wet his pants, he pushed them down to get the wetness away from his skin. When a staff member ordered him to pull them back up, he refused. Some time later he was found lying on the floor, paralyzed. Fairview staff lifted him back onto his bed and left him there for some time before paramedics were called to take him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a severely broken neck and died some days later with his brother Larry at his side.
Larry Ingraham, unconvinced by Fairview's insistence that his brother's death had been an accident, launched an investigation. He found that patient records had been altered. Staff claimed he had fallen off the bed, but his injuries were not consistent with that explanation; the type of broken neck that Van suffered was of a type probably caused by a headlock. The staff member who had been with Van when he had wet his pants had been investigated four times previously for alleged patient abuse. Fairview tried to deflect blame onto another resident, whom they claimed was violent.
No one has been charged in Van's death, though the state has paid his family a wrongful death settlement.