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Shuttered California school and 3 employees indicted after 2018 death of student with autism

Max Benson, 13, died after he was restrained facedown for more than an hour at Guiding Hands School.
Max Benson and Guiding Hands School, Inc.
Max Benson and Guiding Hands School.Family handout via Seth Goldstein

A shuttered Northern California private school and three of its former employees pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges following the 2018 death of a 13-year-old boy with autism.

An El Dorado County grand jury indicted Staranne Meyers, who was the principal of Guiding Hands School; Kimberly Wohlwend, a special education teacher; and Cindy Keller, the executive director and site administrator.

They were each indicted on one felony count of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death in November 2018 of Max Benson, a student at the school.

Guiding Hands School Inc., which owned and operated the school, was also indicted. Attorney information was not available, and the former staff members could not be reached for comment Wednesday at phone numbers listed for them.

The defendants pleaded not guilty, according to a spokesperson for the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office.

Max was restrained facedown for an hour and 45 minutes on Nov. 28, 2018, according to The Sacramento Bee. He died a day later.

The California Education Department said the staff at the school used "an amount of force which is not reasonable and necessary under the circumstances," the newspaper reported. The district attorney has said Max's death was a result of his being restrained.

Guiding Hands School, which served students with disabilities, was suspended by the state Education Department in 2018 and later closed.