(Story updated Aug. 9 at 9:35 a.m.)
A 72-year-old woman living in an assisted living facility died on Aug. 7 when her cigarette fell in her lap and ignited her clothing and wheelchair, according to Chief Russell Wilson of the Katy Fire Department.
Bobby Johnson was found engulfed in flames outside of the Veranda House by staff members, but they were unable to extinguish the flames in time to save her life. Johnson’s friend, Donna Wolfe, last spoke with Johnson at approximately 12:15 p.m. while Johnson was eating in the cafeteria. According to Wolfe, after Johnson finished eating, she went outside to smoke a cigarette. Less than an hour later, Wolfe received a call that Johnson had been severely burned in an accident.
Johnson was responsive at the scene but later died. Donna Mikulenka, a representative from Veranda House, stated that she was unable to comment on the incident out of respect for Johnson’s family.
“It’s a sensitive matter,” she said.
Mikulenka added that grief counselors had been on premise for staff members and residents.
According to Wolfe, Johnson was a diabetic with Parkinson’s disease.
“She couldn’t hardly walk on her own, and most of the time she was in a wheelchair. When the cigarette fell on her, she wouldn’t have been able to put the fire out.”
Darrell Engelbrecht, Johnson’s son-in-law, has requested that the public be sympathetic to his family during this time as they struggle to cope with their loss.
“It’s an ongoing investigation,” said Engelbrecht. “We’re struggling with it. We’re dealing with it. We’re going through a difficult time. We appreciate people respecting our privacy. It’s a tragic thing, and the family just needs some time.”
Wolfe claimed that the nursing home was negligent in their care for Johnson because no one was outside with her, and if there were security cameras, no one was watching them.
Wolfe’s husband, Robert Wolfe, a retired Katy firefighter, reported that Johnson had burns on over 60 percent of her body.
Wolfe said through tears, “What hurts me the most is the thought of how long she was out there burning with no one there to help her. Think about how long it would take for a cigarette to ignite, and then burn off all of someone’s clothes. That’s how long it took before anyone found her.”
Engelbrecht did not contradict the reports of Johnson’s death, but he wished it to be known that Wolfe is not speaking on behalf of the family.
Chief Wilson declined further comment due to the ongoing investigation.