What happened to Linda Love? - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

What happened to Linda Love?

^Rachel Watkins ^Rachel Watkins
^Rubye Hammonds ^Rubye Hammonds

February 6, 2003

It's a disturbing story. An elderly South Georgia woman died of severe hypothermia while living in a personal care home. The investigation led to more disturbing news, she was placed in an unlicensed facility.

So, how did this come about?

A sudden death at Watkins Guest Home on State Line Road in Thomas County sparked an investigation by the Office of Regulatory Services, a state agency. The home had patients, but not a permit.

The owner is Rachel Watkins. Did you know you were running an unlicensed facility? we asked.

"I ain't running nothin' ..." says Rachel Watkins through the storm door of her home.

"What happened to Linda Love?"

" I don't know," said Watkins, slamming the door.

73-year-old Linda Gilmore Love was buried November of last year. But what happened to her before she ended up in the cemetery in Damascus, Georgia?

"I've been knowing Linda love for 25 years ever since I moved from Baker County," said Rubye Hammonds. "She was my next door neighbor."

According to friends, Love was in and out of the Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville. "She had an illness, she was a recovered alcoholic."

But, somehow she was lost in the system. "We tried and tried to get in touch with her, but lost track of her," said Daffice Winns, Love's friend.

Linda Love's cousin, Anna Bell Gilmore, who lives in New Jersey says she's been trying to track down Love for the past three years. So, she was shocked to find out she passed away and she was living in this unlicensed Personal Care Home. Who put her here? Was it a state worker? And, how come relatives couldn't find Love? Many questions unanswered and nobody is talking.

"Does anybody know who had her and how did they get her?" said Daffice Winns.

"Someone had to put her there, she didn't just go on her own. Whoever put her there, they are responsible," said Rubye.

Love's death certificate answers only part of how she died. She was admitted to Archbold Memorial Hospital on November 24th of last year. "We have Linda here and she's serious. She's got pneumonia. If she makes it through the day, it will be a miracle," Willie Winns said. She died the next day of Severe Hypothermia.

Severe hypothermia happens when a person's temperature is below 82 degrees, that's seventeen degrees below your normal body temperature. The temperature outside that night was in the mid to lower 30's.

"I wondered what that was when I saw that, cause I picked up the death certificate," said Winns.

Here's another interesting part of Love's story. Willie Winns who owns Winns Funeral Home in Arlington signed the death certificate. He too was looking for Love's whereabouts, but never succeeded-- until he got the phone call from Archbold Memorial Hospital. "We did all we could," they said. "She's gone..."

But, did Rachel Watkins do all she could? And how did Love's body temperature get so low? Was she wandering outside, temperatures between November 23rd and 24th never got below freezing, but extremely close.

Or was the home too cold inside? "Whoever had Linda I hope they get what's coming to them," said Rubye.

Rachel Watkins did have a permit at one time. She opened her family personal care home in 1986 and shut down in 1999 because ORS was notified that Watkins had no residents and ceased operation. An anonymous complaint was filed after Love's death, followed by an unannounced visit by the state.

A little over a month later, The Department of Human Resources sent this letter to Watkins. It states, "ORS staff verified through an on-site inspection and interviews with residents and staff that you had previously admitted three residents who required assistance with medication, ambulation, and assistance with activities of daily living."

One was Love, the other two were immediately taken out of the home. ORS determined Watkins was running an unlicensed personal care home between September and December 2002.

Her mother-in-law, Peggy Watkins, owns the Personal Care Home in front of Rachel's home. That home is licensed and legal. "I don't think no sick person should be living with someone illegal. The state should do something about it," said Rubye.

At this point, no one has been held responsible for Love's death. Rachel Watkins was given a warning by ORS. The GBI is looking into allegations and of course our own investigation is not over. We will keep you updated as new information comes available.

Rachel Watkins blames ORS saying they hadn't been back to inspect her home since the 90's. That's true, but that's because she shut down in 1999. They had no reason to visit in 2000.

posted at 4:00PM by dave.miller@walb.com

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