Suffering from Alzheimer's, man fatally shot

  • Follow Metro

CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. — The last walk that Ronald Westbrook took began as early as 1 a.m. when he slipped unnoticed from his North Georgia home with his two dogs.

A photo of Ret. Lt. Col. Ronald Westbrook sits on the coffee table in his home in Chickamauga, Ga. The last walk that Westbrook took began as early as 1 a.m. when he slipped unnoticed from his home with his two dogs.  DAVID GOLDMAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
DAVID GOLDMAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A photo of Ret. Lt. Col. Ronald Westbrook sits on the coffee table in his home in Chickamauga, Ga. The last walk that Westbrook took began as early as 1 a.m. when he slipped unnoticed from his home with his two dogs.

It ended three hours later when Westbrook, a 72-year-old who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, knocked in the dark on a stranger’s door last month. Police said a man inside that home, 34-year-old Joe Hendrix, got a .40-caliber handgun, went outside to investigate and shot Westbrook in a horrible mistake.

The unlikely collision between two strangers – one deeply confused, another perceiving a threat – illustrates both the difficulties that caregivers face in keeping loved ones with Alzheimer’s safe and the consequences of miscalculation in a state that celebrates its gun culture.

Westbrook’s widow struggles to comprehend how she lost her husband of 51 years and discussed what happened in an interview in her house this week, sitting on her couch beside her Bible.

“I can’t imagine him feeling threatened by my husband, that’s what surprises me,” said Deanne Westbrook, 70. “Because Ron wasn’t like that. He probably, I think he was so cold. He was looking for help when he was ringing that doorbell at their place. I think he just wanted somebody to help him.”

Hendrix declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation. His attorney, Lee Davis, described his client as distraught. The local district attorney has not yet decided whether to press criminal charges against Hendrix for what happened on Nov. 27.

A retired nurse who once cared for dementia patients in a nursing home, Westbrook’s wife was perhaps better equipped than most to care for a spouse with Alzheimer’s. The progressive disease results in memory loss, impairs judgment and can leave its victims disoriented.

She installed door alarms to alert her if her husband tried wandering away. She was already making plans to get more advanced care at home as the disease progressed.

An incident in mid-November may have set the stage for the fatal error. Shortly after Hendrix’s fiancee moved into her new rental home, a man appeared at the door just before midnight on Nov. 19. He pounded on the door while Hendrix’s fiancee was alone with two children, and he demanded to see someone whom Hendrix’s fiancee did not know, Davis said.

She called Hendrix, who told her to call 911. By the time sheriff’s deputies and Hendrix arrived, the man was gone. Davis said what happened was documented in a police report.

Afterward, Hendrix took a Glock handgun that he kept in his apartment and brought it to his fiancee’s home.

The following week, Deanne Westbrook woke up and noticed that her husband and the couple’s two dogs were missing. Not long after, a police officer arrived to deliver the news, and the dogs were returned to her.

For reasons that are not clear, Westbrook left his home and started walking. A deputy sheriff noticed him along a road around 2:20 a.m. and stopped to ask what he was doing, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said. Westbrook told the officer that he was gathering mail and then planned to return to his home up a hill. While Westbrook’s answers were curt, nothing about the conversation alarmed the deputy.

Wilson said barking dogs woke up Hendrix and his fiancee in her home sometime before 4 a.m. Westbrook had walked to their house, the last in a cul-de-sac. He rang the doorbell, knocked on the door and tried the handle.

Hendrix left the house and found Westbrook outside in the dark. He told police that Westbrook ignored commands to stop, identify himself and raise his hands. The sheriff said Westbrook approached Hendrix, who fired four shots.

“Obviously, in hindsight, it’s very easy to say, ‘Why didn’t you stay inside? Why didn’t you keep the door shut?’” Davis said. “But the reality is, how long are you supposed to wait until somebody comes through your door? And had the person come through his door with his fiancee there, then what would have happened?”

Under Georgia law, people are not required to try retreating from a potential conflict before opening fire to defend themselves from serious imminent harm, said Russell Gabriel, director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at the University of Georgia. State law allows people to use lethal force to stop someone from forcibly entering a home if those inside reasonably fear they are going to be attacked. Deadly force can even be used to stop someone from trying to forcibly enter a home to commit a felony.

“Different people have a different understanding of what is reasonable,” Gabriel said. “Reasonableness is a classic jury question.”

Comments (8) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 12/07/13 - 09:40 pm
6
0
Sad all around

Question
"A deputy sheriff noticed him along a road around 2:20 a.m. and stopped to ask what he was doing, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said. Westbrook told the officer that he was gathering mail and then planned to return to his home up a hill. While Westbrook’s answers were curt, nothing about the conversation alarmed the deputy."

But nothing about the conversation alarmed the deputy????
So to the Deputy there was nothing unusual about a 70+ year old man at 2:20am in the morning, gathering mail?

Odd town.

Casting_Fool
1174
Points
Casting_Fool 12/08/13 - 02:10 am
6
0
I worry about similar

I worry about similar situations happening to me. I would truly hate to shoot someone in a situation like that. I can understand how Hendrix must feel. A tragic accident all around.

What puzzles me is that Mrs. Westbrook had door alarms installed to warn her if her husband wandered off. Did they not work that night?

GiantsAllDay
9853
Points
GiantsAllDay 12/08/13 - 04:09 am
2
3
Hendrix is going to skate.

Hendrix is going to skate. Trust me.

KSL
134445
Points
KSL 12/08/13 - 06:22 am
3
1
I am with casting fool!

I am with casting fool!

KSL
134445
Points
KSL 12/08/13 - 06:23 am
3
1
Going to skate. What an odd

Going to skate. What an odd way of expressing this tragic happening.

daphne3520
950
Points
daphne3520 12/08/13 - 09:29 am
0
0
nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 12/08/13 - 10:19 am
2
0
Arrested or Not all DEPENDS on

If the DA is Lib. ANTI-GUN or Not.

Laws too many times are enforced or NOT enforced, according to the
Enforcers Agenda.

Little Lamb
46920
Points
Little Lamb 12/08/13 - 07:01 pm
1
0
NocNoc is correct

Just ask Scott Dean.

itsanotherday1
45404
Points
itsanotherday1 12/08/13 - 09:11 pm
0
0
I think the shooter won't be

I think the shooter won't be charged. With the documented case of a stranger at the door a couple of weeks before, he was justifiably worried and suspicious, even though he should have stayed inside and defended his "castle" instead of confronting the victim. That was plain stupid. What if it had been a bad guy with a gun?

Casting_Fool
1174
Points
Casting_Fool 12/11/13 - 09:50 am
0
0
"What if it had been a bad

"What if it had been a bad guy with a gun?"

In that case, the potential exchange of gun fire would have been outside the home, away from the fiancé and her two children.

Back to Top

Top headlines

Democrats target turnout for Sunday voting

Registered voters in Augusta-Richmond County can cast ballots in the Nov. 4 election from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in the Advance Voting Center at Augusta Municipal Building, 530 Greene St.
Search Augusta jobs