A Bluffton woman and her boyfriend have been charged with neglecting a vulnerable adult after the woman's mother was found in filthy conditions, with maggots and sores on her body, according to the Bluffton Police Department.
Cheryl Estrella, 21, and Richard Wimmer, 22, were charged with felony neglect Nov. 21 after Laura Muller died in September. Muller, 47, was found in a room cluttered with debris, a police report said. Estrella and Wimmer lived with Muller in a home on South Street in Bluffton.
An autopsy determined Muller died of natural causes, and her living conditions did not cause her death, Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner said.
Police and paramedics arrived at the home Sept. 9 after Wimmer, who told them he had been Muller's caregiver for the past three years, called 911, according to a police report released Wednesday. Wimmer told police he found Muller's body in her bed when he was preparing to bathe her.
Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen ruled that Muller had died of natural causes. An autopsy at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston confirmed his conclusion several weeks later, according to the police report.
Muller's colostomy bag was overflowing and had spilled on her body, the report said. The room was cluttered, with partially smoked cigarettes and trash on the floor.
An MUSC staff member told police Muller had been dead for less than a day, but the maggots were probably on her body in dead tissue when she was alive.
Estrella said her mother had been bedridden for three years, according to the police report. Wimmer said he had tried for a week to move Muller into a nursing home and that both he and Estrella had tried unsuccessfully to get her out of bed using a lift, which was found beside the bed. The police report said Muller weighed 235 pounds and that Wimmer told investigators she screamed in pain when he and Estrella tried to move her.
He also said Muller smoked cigarettes and occasionally drank alcohol. A home health care company had stopped visiting about eight weeks before her death, Wimmer told police.
If convicted, Wimmer and Estrella could face up to five years in prison. If neglect or abuse had caused Muller's death, the charge would be different and the penalties stiffer.
Wimmer and Estrella have been released on personal recognizance from the Beaufort County Detention Center, according to the jail log. A phone number listed for the couple on the police report is disconnected.
It is unclear whether they are represented by an attorney. An attorney is not listed in their case files at the Beaufort County Courthouse.