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Murder charge for caregiver in elderly woman's neglect death

Police found Prane Paciunas, 89, starving and covered in lice and maggot-infested bedsores last month. Her caregiver, Jean Dombrowski now is charged with murder.

THE CAREGIVER of an elderly East Frankford woman who died a week after a social worker found her starving and covered in lice and maggot-infested bedsores is now charged with murder.

Jean Marie Dombrowski, 48, of Worth Street near Wakeling, was charged with murder, involuntary manslaughter, neglect of care of a dependent person and theft by deception in the Nov. 15 death of Prane Paciunas, 89, said Officer Rafeeq Strickland, a police spokesman.

Police - summoned by a Philadelphia Corporation for Aging worker doing a well-being check - found Paciunas lying on a mattress in the first-floor living room of a ramshackle home on Haworth Street near Torresdale Avenue on Nov. 7, Strickland said.

She was wrapped in a quilt, with her "hands locked in place above her head," because of muscle constricture caused by her immobility, and "large open sores infected with maggots, bugs and lice," he said.

She lingered in critical condition at Aria Health's Frankford hospital before succumbing to her injuries at 3:10 p.m. Nov. 15, Strickland said. The Medical Examiner's Office listed the cause of death as sequelae of decubitus (bedsores) and ulcers, Strickland said.

Dombrowski initially had been charged with aggravated assault, neglect of care of an elder person and related offenses and jailed in lieu of $2 million bail.

Dombrowski now is being held without bail and faces a Dec. 17 preliminary hearing, according to court records.

Paciunas "was in such a bad state when she was finally found, there wasn't anything the doctors could do for her," said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber, chief of the Homicide Unit.

Dombrowski lived around the corner from Paciunas and had known the elderly woman for about 18 years, Selber said. She served as Paciunas' caregiver for the past six years but hadn't taken the woman to see a doctor in more than a year, Selber said.

She reportedly told police that she cashed Paciunas' $1,100 monthly Social Security checks with permission.

"Whether or not it was with permission, the money was for the benefit of the decedent, for her food and care," Selber said. "But clearly that's not how the money was being used."

Paciunas' home was so rundown it appeared to be abandoned, Selber said. It had no functioning kitchen and investigators found no food in the home, she added.

"We get cases that have to do with neglect of our most vulnerable members of society - either children or the elderly - who are really relying on the care of others, so to see them neglected and abused to death is really horrifying," Selber said.

Dombrowski has worked as a clerk at ShopRite since 2009, according to her Facebook page, which brims with selfies, photos of tattoos and jokes like a photo of a wooded path with the words: "A walk in the woods helps me relax and release tension. The fact that I am dragging a body should be completely irrelevant."

Court records list Dombrowski's lawyer as Mary Tenin, but she couldn't be located for comment.