A newly issued autopsy shows that a Native American girl’s death after collapsing at Diamond Ranch Academy, a Utah boarding school, was the result of a serious infection that usually needs to be treated with antibiotics.
Taylor Goodridge, 17, died on Dec. 20, and the state concluded in a subsequent investigation that the boarding school for troubled teens had failed to seek necessary medical care for her when she vomited on multiple days.
An autopsy report completed this month by the Utah Medical Examiner’s office concluded that Taylor died of peritonitis, an infection of the abdomen tissue, which led to sepsis, a life-threatening condition that arises from a body’s response to infection. The infection spread to her vital organs, causing them to fail, the autopsy found.
Peritonitis is a serious illness that must be treated quickly with antibiotics and sometimes surgery. Symptoms of peritonitis include fatigue, nausea, vomiting and a swollen stomach, all of which Taylor complained of in the weeks leading up to her death, according to former staff members at Diamond Ranch Academy.
The autopsy report followed a Utah Department of Health and Human Services investigation report, obtained through an open records request, that found Taylor showed signs of illness as far back as October, and her symptoms had intensified in the days leading up to her death. Diamond Ranch Academy, however, did not attempt to take her to a hospital until the day she died, the report said.
“In the 12-day period prior to the client’s death, program documentation recorded that the client vomited at least 14 times,” the department’s investigation report stated. “Nine days prior to the client’s death, documentation recorded the client vomited at least 7 times in an 11-hour time frame.”
The reports angered Taylor’s parents, Dean Goodridge and AmberLynn Wigtion.
“We are devastated to learn that Taylor’s death was entirely preventable had Diamond Ranch Academy cared,” Goodridge and Wigtion said in a statement.
Bill Frazier, a lawyer for the school, said he could not comment on the autopsy because neither he nor the school had seen it. He previously said Taylor’s death was a “tragic circumstance” but the school was unable to comment further because of education and medical privacy laws. Frazier added that the school disagreed with “many aspects” of the former staff members’ accounts.
The Utah Department of Health and Human Services placed Diamond Ranch Academy’s license on probation and suspended its ability to enroll children after Taylor’s death. But in March, before the autopsy had been finalized, the state lifted the enrollment restrictions. The agency said it made the decision after multiple unannounced site visits from December to February and an appeal by the school.
“DHHS inspections showed DRA had made the changes needed to become compliant and showed no evidence to prevent the facility from taking on new clients,” the department said in a statement.
Until the end of July, Diamond Ranch Academy will be subject to additional inspections by the department, and the school remains at risk of losing its license if it violates state rules.
The department said records from its appeal hearing are confidential and declined to release them in response to an open records request.
A spokesperson for the department added that it is still determining whether the autopsy "is considered additional information related to" Diamond Ranch Academy's license.
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Taylor’s parents said in their statement that they were “dumbfounded” that the state “has not held Diamond Ranch Academy accountable for Taylor’s death, settling with Diamond Ranch Academy without any input from our family.”
According to its website, Diamond Ranch Academy maintains its accreditation from the Joint Commission, a national nonprofit organization that sets standards for medical and behavioral health care facilities. The Joint Commission did not respond to questions about Diamond Ranch Academy beyond outlining its typical process for handling reports of incidents, which can include a review and removal of accreditation.
Taylor’s parents are suing Diamond Ranch Academy in federal court over her death “to make sure this does not happen to other innocent teens and their families,” they said.
Diamond Ranch Academy has asked for the case to be dismissed on procedural grounds. A judge has not ruled on that yet, and the case is pending.