Israel Police Investigating Negligence After Autistic Man Dies of Water Poisoning

Ran Weiss had a compulsion to drink large quantities of water. He died in January after ingesting seven liters in two hours.

Ran Weiss.
Courtesy of the family

Police are investigating whether staff negligence was a factor in the death of an autistic resident of a hostel in the center of the country in January.

Ran Weiss, 31, lived in a hostel in Even Yehuda run by Alut, the Israeli Society for Autistic Children. He died of water poisoning after ingesting seven liters of water in two hours.

Weiss was meant to be closely supervised at all times, with the hostel staff aware that he had a behavioral disturbance that expressed itself in a compulsion to drink large quantities of water. On the morning of January 8, however, he was apparently left alone for two hours, during which time he made his way to the bathroom and drank a huge quantity of water from a sink faucet.

A 2.5 million shekel ($661,000) lawsuit has been filed in Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court against Alut and the Social Affairs Ministry.

According to the lawsuit, Weiss was found on the floor, vomiting water and unable to stand, yet the hostel director failed to summon an ambulance to take him to the hospital.

Instead, she called Weiss’ adoptive father, Ido Ronen, telling him that Weiss looked pale and was vomiting and that she planned to take him to a doctor. She later called Ronen again and said that the doctor had to examine Weiss in the car because he couldn’t walk on his own.

At that point, Ronen realized what must have happened and ordered her to get Weiss to an emergency room immediately. By the time he arrived at the emergency room, he had lost consciousness and was on a respirator. He subsequently died.

According to the Ronen, who spoke to the emergency room physicians, the hostel staff never mentioned the possibility of water poisoning to the medical personnel.

“Our son is gone because of the staff’s negligence,” said Ronen. “Everyone knew about his problem and they are trying to paper things over and shift responsibility if I’d understood that the supervision was so loose I’d never have left him there.”

Alut responded by saying, “This was a very unfortunate incident. His guardian has filed a police complaint; the complaint will be investigated and then we will respond.”

In a separate incident in January, a resident of an Alut hostel in Kfar Ofarim choked to death on a piece of food.

The Social Affairs Ministry has appointed teams to look into both incidents. “In any case of death of a resident in a framework, the issue is referred immediately to the police and an investigating team is appointed by the ministry director-general,” the ministry said.

“Alut has a weighty responsibility here,” said Revital Lan-Cohen, director of the Coalition of Special-Needs Families. “When we speak to the counselors [in the hostels] all of them say they work with no guidance and no conditions and for a pittance, which is why there aren’t enough capable counselors.”

There is very high turnover, which is where the responsibility lies. Parents are tied to these frameworks and they can’t take their children out because there is no alternative.”