Civil suit filed against Charleston area group home in 22-year-old autistic man's death

The father of a 22-year-old autistic man struck and killed by a vehicle last year after wandering from a group home has filed a wrongful death suit.

A passing driver found Forrest Carlton, of Charleston, injured on the side of Ashley River Road around 3 a.m. Dec. 8.

Carlton, dressed only in a T-shirt and undergarments, had roamed away from South Carolina MENTOR group home, 2611 Church Creek Drive, according to his father's attorney, Nathan Hughey.

Carlton usually spent his weekends with his father in Charleston, according to Hughey. But the father had fallen ill and could not pick up his son the day before Carlton was struck and killed in a hit-and-run.

Charleston County sheriff's deputies later charged Daniel Shirley, 19, of Hollywood, with leaving the scene of an accident with personal injury and death. Shirley is being sued in a separate civil case.

Carlton tried to wander from South Carolina MENTOR at least four times since moving into the facility in November 2012, Hughey alleged. Its staff failed to heighten its supervision accordingly, he said.

"(South Carolina MENTOR) is run off of state money. They are ultimately getting your tax dollars to take care of people who need help. But, somehow, they let him get out, and he unfortunately suffered fatal injuries as a result," Hughey said. "(Carlton) was a really sweet kid and really likeable. ... He loved computers, probably because his dad was a computer systems engineer. He was fully capable of enjoying life and all that was taken away from him."

State law does not require Carlton's family to specify an amount sought in damages. The value of this case will be determined by a jury, Hughey said.

State Law Enforcement Division agents reviewed Carlton's stay at South Carolina MENTOR and ultimately referred an investigation back to the Sheriff's Office, Maj. Eric Watson said.

Deputies are considering filing additional criminal charges in the death.

Documents filed by Hughey in the civil suit allege negligence, saying the facility failed to properly monitor Carlton.

Other defendants include the home's national affiliate, the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs and Carolina Autism Supported Living Services.

"The Defendants fraudulently concealed their inability to care for Forrest Carlton according to acceptable standards required by law and represented by the Defendants, and the representations made were false," court documents allege.

A statement released by South Carolina MENTOR State Director Stan Butkus did not specify how Carlton got out of the group home. He indicated, however, that the well-being of the facility's residents is a top priority:

"As a health and human services organization dedicated to providing quality services to those in our care, we take our obligation to ensure their safety and well-being seriously. ... Supervision plans are established in accordance with DDSN regulations and based on the individualized support plan for the person receiving services. South Carolina MENTOR is committed to continuous quality improvement and regularly reviews and assesses our policies and procedures to ensure we are providing quality services of those entrusted to our care."

In a separate civil suit, Hughey alleged Shirley had been drinking the night his vehicle hit Carlton. Also being sued is Buffalo Wild Wings in Summerville, allegedly for serving alcohol to the teen. A spokesman for the restaurant did not return a phone call for comment.

Shirley's attorney, David Aylor, said he could not talk about the pending civil litigation but that the criminal charge did not accuse Shirley of being intoxicated.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at