DELAND, Fla. -- A Central Florida Navy veteran's death raises serious questions about whether a local hospital verified the identity of a man who authorized doctors to discontinue his life support.
He claimed to be the patient's brother.
Roger MacKinnon's life started to unravel with the loss of his wife Mary, who died when the Groundhog Day tornadoes of 2007 laid waste to the couple's Lake County home.
"He lived by himself and would sit on the porch. I'd try to talk to him and he wouldn't talk to nobody. Just heartbroken," said neighbor Jim Mayse.
On May 30, 2011, MacKinnon had chest pains, and asked Richard Leclair -- described by MacKinnon's family as a long-time friend and drinking buddy -- to take him to the hospital. During an exploratory procedure, MacKinnon's heart stopped.
For three days, he was in and out of a coma, then completely comatose for the next three. On June 7, police say Leclair and his wife met with MacKinnon's doctor and authorized the hospital to withdraw life support.
MacKinnon died two days later.
"Family members didn't have an opportunity to pray for him. They didn't get to be there when he passed. He was alone when he died," said family attorney Phil Partridge.
The MacKinnon family attorney showed WESH 2 News a "do not resuscitate" order Leclair signed, identifying himself as MacKinnon's stepbrother. And on a "withdrawal of life support" order, Leclair claimed to be MacKinnon's brother. Partridge says the hospital never asked for proof of Leclair's identity.
"Mr. Leclair knew that Roger had a son and a daughter. He had a real brother," said Partridge. "Leclair told the hospital he had no other living relatives."
DeLand police say Leclair had been named beneficiary to MacKinnon's bank account, and after the widower's death, he collected $106,000.
Days before MacKinnon's family even knew he was dead, police say Leclair went to MacKinnon's home and removed thousands of dollars of furniture and lawn equipment.
"He said he was Roger's brother, and Roger wanted him to have that stuff," said Mayse.
Lake County investigators charged Leclair with grand theft and trespassing.
He pleaded no contest and was put on probation. He was ordered to repay MacKinnon's son $6,000 for items taken from his father's home.
DeLand police recommended the state attorney charge Leclair with fraud for misrepresenting himself as MacKinnon's brother at the hospital. They declined to prosecute, telling WESH 2 News it was due to a lack of evidence.
"There were inconsistencies in the hospital records that should have been glaring to the hospital," said Partridge.
For more than a week, WESH 2 News has asked Florida Hospital officials whether anyone ever verified that Richard LeClair had the authority to give them the order to pull the plug.
A hospital spokesperson refused to comment, citing the investigation into the incident. WESH 2 News also asked for a copy of Florida Hospital's protocol for end of life decisions. They have not answered that request.
A negligence lawsuit filed by MacKinnon's son against Florida Hospital DeLand was thrown out on a technicality last month. His lawyer is asking the court to reconsider.
WESH 2 News made repeated attempts to speak with Leclair. We did speak with his wife.
"It's about Roger MacKinnon," said WESH 2's Bob Kealing.
"What about him?" his wife said.
"It's about his decision to pull the plug," said Kealing.
"I don't know any, I'm not going to talk about any of that," she said.
"Did he pretend to be Roger's brother? Or stepbrother?" Kealing asked.
"I'm not into any of that," she said.
Do hospitals have an obligation to verify the identity of those making end of life decisions for patients? A spokeswoman for the state agency that monitors health care providers says yes.
"While there is nothing that specifically states a hospital must check the identification of the person making such decisions, the hospital would have an 'unwritten' obligation to make sure that the proxy was appropriately authorized," said Shelisha Coleman, from the Agency for Health Care Administration.
The case begs the question: Should the verification requirement be written into Florida statutes?
So what can be done to prevent this from happening?
You should have a living will or end of life directive spelling out your wishes. If you don't have one and the hospital offers, fill out the paperwork.