February 24th, 2012

Six days before he died, Van Ingraham was found on the floor of his room. His neck was broken and his spinal cord was crushed and disfigured. The injury was so severe, medical experts said it looked like he could have been put in a headlock or hanged.

But even if Ingraham knew how he’d been injured, his severe autism prevented him from revealing it. He’d never uttered a word in his life – only his injuries could speak for him.

Solving the mystery of Ingraham’s death in the summer of 2007 was left to the detectives at the Fairview Developmental Center, a state-run institution in Costa Mesa where Ingraham lived in a sterile room. A tiny window allowed only a sliver of light into his world.

Ingraham’s family sent him to Fairview when he was just 8 years old. He lived under the care of the state for 42 years. Restless, he would sprint through hallways. He would urinate on himself when upset. At his worst, he would strike at his own face, though never at his three roommates or others around him.

The coarseness of Ingraham’s life at Fairview was matched only by the sloppiness of the investigation into his death. Watch our in-depth video to learn more about Ingraham’s case.

February 23rd, 2012

Photo: Donna Lazzini embraces her son, Timothy Lazzini, a resident of the Sonoma Developmental Center who died in 2005, in a family photo collage celebrating his life.

California has assembled a unique police force to protect about 1,800 of its most vulnerable patients – men and women with cerebral palsy, severe autism and other mental disabilities who live in state institutions and require round-the-clock monitoring and protection from abuse.

But our new investigation has found that detectives and patrol officers at the state’s five board-and-care institutions routinely fail to conduct basic police work even when patients die under mysterious circumstances.

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California Watch, the largest investigative journalism team operating in the state, was launched in 2009 by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Investigative Reporting. Areas of coverage include education, health and welfare, public safety, the environment and the influence of money on the political and regulatory process.

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