|Geriatric Management, Rebecca Fierle’s business at the corner of Hillcrest Street and Altaloma Avenue just northeast of downtown Orlando. (Jeff Weiner / Orlando Sentinel)|
The cremated remains of nine people were found by law enforcement officers who searched the Orlando office of disgraced former professional guardian Rebecca Fierle this week, the state’s Office of Attorney General said Wednesday.
“As this investigation continues, we will be focusing on whose cremains are in the urns, medical records that identify the cause of death, how long the cremains have been in the target’s office and much more,” Kylie Mason, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Ashley Moody, said in a statement. “As this is a very active criminal investigation, we cannot comment further at this time.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant Monday at 1646 Hillcrest St., a small converted house northeast of downtown Orlando that serves as an office for Fierle’s business, Geriatric Management.
FDLE launched a criminal probe into the court-appointed decision maker last month, after a state investigation found one of her incapacitated clients, 75-year-old Steven Stryker, died at a Tampa hospital in May following Fierle’s refusal to remove a “do not resuscitate” order she filed against his wishes.
FDLE spokesman Jeremy Burns confirmed the agency found cremated remains at Fierle’s office but could not provide more details and directed inquires to the attorney general’s office.
Fierle is not currently facing criminal charges. Her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
It is not uncommon for guardians to temporarily have the cremated remains of dead clients until a final resting place is found, said Gina Rossi-Scheiman, executive director of the Florida State Guardianship Association, a statewide organization of about 580 members, including guardians, attorneys and others associated with guardianship cases.
Guardians are responsible for incapacitated people who may be homeless or indigent with no family to claim them.
“In most of these cases, the reason a professional guardian or a public guardian has been assigned is because there is nobody for the individual,” Rossi-Scheiman said. “At times, you’re the only person in somebody’s life.”
If the deceased ward left no instructions and no family member exists or is available, Florida law gives guardians legal authority over the remains.
Rossi-Scheiman said, in her experience as a guardian, she’s had to pick up a ward’s remains from a cremation company to send to a family member because no one else could do it. Guardians are tasked with making end-of-life decisions for wards, including prepaid burial plans and funeral arrangements with families, she said.
“It’s possible for you to be in possession of someone’s remains because you’re caring for that person and making sure they’re put in the proper place where somebody needs to be laid to rest, whatever those wishes are,” Rossi-Scheiman said.
Rossi-Scheiman did not want to comment on Fierle’s case, but said “everybody is concerned.”
“We’re waiting to see what happens,” she said.
Investigators with the Okaloosa County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller found hospital staff could not perform life-saving procedures on Stryker because of the DNR. Fierle told investigators she routinely filed DNRs on the behalf of clients. Circuit Judge Janet Thorpe, in seeking Fierle’s removal from 95 Orange County cases in July, found that Fierle had “abused her authority” by doing so without permission from the court or families. Fierle has since resigned from all of her cases statewide.
Fierle told investigators she filed a DNR on Stryker because it was “an issue of quality of life rather than quantity,” wrote Andrew Thurman, an auditor and investigator for the Okaloosa Clerk. His report alleged Fierle’s decision amounted to "the removal of care necessary to maintain the ward’s physical health” and cited criminal statues.
Cremated remains of 9 people found at Orlando office of disgraced former guardian Rebecca Fierle