ATLANTA – A man who fatally shot a wandering Alzheimer’s patient in the early-morning hours in north Georgia will not face criminal charges, a local prosecutor said Friday.
Joe Hendrix, 35, fatally shot 72-year-old Ronald Westbrook on Nov. 27. The elderly man had slipped from his home as early as 1 a.m. and wandered in the cold and dark for hours until randomly approaching the home of Hendrix’s fiancée on a rural cul-de-sac, repeatedly knocking on the door and ringing the bell.
Hendrix’s fiancée called 911, while Hendrix grabbed his .40-caliber handgun, went outside and confronted Westbrook in the dark. Hendrix told police that he fired four shots after Westbrook ignored commands to stop, identify himself and raise his hands.
District Attorney Herbert Buzz Franklin’s office characterized the incident as a tragic shooting death in a written statement. Franklin did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
I’m a little upset, said Deanne Westbrook, the slain man’s widow. She said she felt police and prosecutors had done a thorough job. I really wanted to see it go before a grand jury, and then maybe before a jury. But they tell me there’s not enough evidence for that.
Hendrix appreciated the care and deliberation shown by investigators, said his attorney, Lee Davis.
Mr. Hendrix fully acknowledges the loss to Westbrook family, and his thoughts and prayers are with them, Davis said in a statement.
Westbrook slipped out unnoticed from the home he shared with his wife of 51 years. Westbrook suffered from Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease that causes memory loss and impairs judgment. His widow, Deanne, previously said her husband had become confused about where he lived and struggled to identify those closest to him.
She said she installed alarms on her doors to prevent her husband from wandering, but she didn’t hear them when he left with the couple’s two dogs, possibly as early as 1 a.m.
A deputy sheriff noticed Westbrook walking along a road around 2:30 a.m. and stopped to question him. Westbrook told the officer that he was getting his mail – he was near mailboxes – and then planned to return home. Nothing about the conversation alarmed the officer.
Just before 4 a.m., Hendrix and his fiancée woke up to barking dogs and realized someone was ringing their doorbell and trying to get in, police said. Hendrix’s fiancée called 911 while Hendrix went outside with his gun.