Retired Palm Coast Nurse Accused of Suffocating Husband, a Cop, in Hospital Bed
FlaglerLive | August 29, 2016
Henry “Butch” Sochalski Jr., 64, and his wife Jan Sochalski, 61, had lived in their Palm Coast home at 71 Ethan Allen Drive 13 years. They’d moved down from New Jersey. Jan was a nurse for 40 years. Henry was a cop.
Today, Jan was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of her husband on May 19 at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach. Jan is accused of suffocating Henry to death three weeks after she had threatened hospital staff taking care of Henry that she’d bring his gun to the hospital and shoot staffers dead, because she was dissatisfied with the care he was receiving.
Jan Sochalski has twice been arrested in Flagler County—for grand theft and shoplifting. On Monday, she was arrested by Daytona Beach police as a result of the investigation into her husband’s death, and is being held at the Volusia County Branch Jail without bond.
Henry had gone to the hospital for elective back surgery, which took place on April 7. He’d had a similar surgery in February. He was expected to make a full recovery, the arrest report states. He was put on dilaudid, a pain-control medication, as he recovered at the hospital. Henry could administer his own medication by pushing a button. Staff members had to ask Jan not to dispense the medication to Henry.
In at least one instance when the pain medication was checked, “it was found to have been pressed 264 times in an 8-hour period, whereas it should have only been pressed 6 times an hour,” the report states. The machine has a built-in mechanism that ostensibly ensures that no more medication is dispensed than amounts prescribed, even if the button is pressed more often.
On April 9, however, Henry went into respiratory and cardiac arrest and had been non-responsive since: that is, he went into a coma. On May 11, he was moved to what’s called “comfort care” at the hospital. Comfort care relieves a patient’s suffering and eases the way to the end of life. Around that time, Jan asked medical staff for medication that would “decrease” Henry’s respiration, according to the report. She was told that that was essentially asking for Henry to be killed. She was not given such medication.
Two days later, he was moved to a progressive care unit—a step down from intensive care, and five days after that, Jan signed a Do Not Resuscitate directive.
That day, there was an unexplained incident when Jan refused to let medical staff enter her husband’s room. The same day, she had asked staff for saline. No saline was given her.
The following morning at 2 a.m., after being with her husband all day, Jan had a conversation with a nurse, saying she’d be going home to Palm Coast to sleep. Both agreed Henry was deteriorating rapidly, and that the end was near. Jan returned a few hours later.
At 8:30, a heart monitor alerted nurses at their station that something was wrong with Henry. Several members of the medical staff went to the room. When one nurse entered the room with a so-called crash cart, she saw that Henry’s oxygen mask had been moved to the side and that Jan was “hovering over the victim’s head and neck,” according to the report. Jan was “laying on top of the victim,” with her hands on top of Henry.
Henry Sochalski was pronounced dead at 8:30 a.m. that May 19.
Staff noticed that his bed had been flattened, whereas it had been previously left at a 45-degree angle so Henry’s head would be raised. Another nurse noticed that Henry’s nose was purple. An hour and a half earlier, the nurse had checked on him and he appeared normal. Yet another nurse would tell detectives that when she entered the room, she noticed Jan as if “pinching the victim’s nose” as she hovered over him.
After Henry’s death Jan appeared rushed and immediately requested a copy of his death certificate. When detectives spoke to her about the circumstances surrounding Henry’s death, she said that she had moved the bed down flat and moved the humidifier around his throat because she could hear his breathing slowing down, and she wanted to be near him. She said she’d been hugging Henry around the neck and head.
The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide caused by asphyxiation. The autopsy was performed on May 20. On Aug. 18, a forensic investigator at the medical examiner’s office got a call from Jan, who asked him if he could tell if Henry had been brain dead when he died. Jan told him that “she wanted to make sure that she made the right decision,” according to the report.
Interviewed by a detective this morning at the Daytona Beach Police Department, Jan Sochalski said she’d had no intention of suffocating her husband, nor had she done so, or done anything to cause his death. They’d been married 44 years.
Henry had spent 25 years as a cop on the streets of Trenton before his 2003 retirement. A motorcycle enthusiast, he’d been an executive officer of the Blue Knights International Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club.
Henry’s brief obituary appeared in the pages of the Trenton Times on May 22. He died, the obituary began, “surrounded by his loving family at Florida Memorial Hospital.”