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3 former school employees were indicted in the 2018 death of an autistic teen

Max Benson, 13, died two days after being restrained by school staff, according to officials.

EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. — A California grand jury has indicted three former school employees and the now-shuttered Guiding Hands School in the death of 13-year-old student Max Benson.

Benson was a student with autism who attended Guiding Hands School. He died on Nov. 28, 2018, days after being restrained by a teacher at the school when Benson became violent, school officials said.

The now-shuttered Guiding Hands School, its former Executive Director Cindy Keller, Principal Staranne Meyers, and Special Education Teacher Kimberly Wohlwend have each been indicted on a single count of involuntary manslaughter by the El Dorado County Grand Jury, according to court documents.

Wohlwend is indicted for her alleged direct involvement in Benson’s death, while the former Guiding Hands owners – Keller and Meyers are each facing indictment for alleged criminal negligence that led to Benson’s death, according to the grand jury indictment.

The indictments come more than two years after the former school employees were first charged by the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office with involuntary manslaughter in Benson’s death. During that arraignment, they pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in El Dorado County Court on Nov. 13, 2019.

A judge allowed the three women out on bail on the condition they would not teach or work at a daycare as they awaited trial. The case has since stalled in the Courts with no significant movement.

Attorneys representing the family of Max Benson, say the latest development will help bring this case to trial and come closer to offering closure for the family.

The process will speed up in terms of the amount of time it will take to try the case,” said Attorney Seth Goldstein, who is representing the victim’s family in a civil case against the school.

Benson’s family and other families of children who have been injured or killed during the use of restraints are seeking an end to the practice they call dangerous, said co-counsel Merit Bennett for the plaintiffs in the case. A lawsuit is currently in progress against the Guiding Hands school, the California Department of Education, and other area school districts that contracted with Guiding Hands.

With the new indictments, the three women are due to appear in court for a trial setting conference on September 2, according to Savannah Broddrick, a spokesperson for the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office.

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