Woman died after being ‘smothered with pillow’ in nursing home

Inquest hears no identifiable ‘asphyxial signs’ found on body of Veronica Vollrath (83)

The inquest into the death of an elderly woman who died in a Co Waterford nursing home has found that suffocation by smothering with a pillow was the cause of her death.

The finding was in line with “circumstantial evidence” but there were no “identifiable” asphyxial signs on her body, the hearing heard.

Veronica Vollrath (83), from Tramore, Co Waterford, died in the Killure Bridge nursing home outside Waterford city on January 9th, 2012.

Her son, Gerard Vollrath (48), was convicted last year of attempted murder and given a three-year suspended prison sentence.

A murder charge against Mr Vollrath was dropped and he pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to attempted murder.

The trial heard it could not be said for certain that Mrs Vollrath, who had a number of serious medical conditions, was not already dead when her son put a pillow over her face.

Judge Paul Carney said in during the case that Mr Vollrath's motivation was "entirely compassionate and not at all malevolent".

The inquest in Waterford yesterday heard that the former assistant state pathologist Dr Khalid Jaber, who carried out the postmortem on Mrs Vollrath's body, is now living abroad and not available to give evidence.

Anna Kirk, a daughter of the deceased, asked why it had taken so long for the inquest to be held and for Dr Jaber's report "to come out".

Coroner John Goff said he had to wait until the criminal proceedings were concluded last year and that the difficulty with Dr Jaber was that he is now living abroad. Dr Jaber resigned from his post in 2013.

To finalise the inquest process, Mr Goff said he was prepared to have Dr Jaber's evidence read into the record which was done by pathologist Dr Rob Landers of University Hospital Waterford.

He asked Mrs Kirk if she wanted the inquest adjourned to see if Dr Jaber would return and she indicated she did not.

The pathologist’s report stated: “Cause of death was suffocation, smothering by a pillow, as per circumstantial evidence, with no identifiable asphyxial [physical] signs”.

There were a number of contributory factors to Mrs Vollrath’s death, including the fact that she’d had a stroke, had hypertension, cardiovascular disease, another type of heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

The coroner and jury returned a verdict in line with this medical evidence.