Siblings still seeking justice for disabled sister's hot car death

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Who let Rebekah Harkins die? It is a question that haunts sister Syleta Harkins every day.

"Whether it was murder or whether it was negligent homicide, we believe there should be some justice somewhere," says Harkins.

On July 23, 2013, Rebekah was driven from her group home to the Sean Ashley House, a day center for adults with disabilities in southwest Houston. Harkins had been going to this day center for about nine months. Autistic, Harkins was not verbal, but had always been loved and cherished by her family. That day, she did not get out of the van and go inside. Instead, somebody left her in the van.

Rebekah was found five hours later, and weeks after that, she died from her injuries.

"There were so many people involved, so many times she could have been helped and saved," said her brother, Will Mason. "We feel like someone should definitely see some type of consequences for the death of our sister."

The Harkins family, however, has found no answers. Nearly two years after their sister's death, no one - not the driver, not anyone who ran the Sean Ashley House - has faced criminal charges.

The family set up a petition and opened a Facebook page. They are hoping to bring attention to the lack of prosecution, and spur some action by the investigators in the Houston Police Department as well as the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

"We need answers to our questions, we need to look at the facts and take this case seriously," Harkins said.

The family cannot even sue for wrongful death. According to their attorneys, Texas law only allows parents, spouses and kids to do so. As an older person with disabilities, Harkins has none of those. Her parents are long gone, and she never married and had children.

Her surviving siblings say they want to change state law so that in the future, if criminal charges aren't brought, families like theirs can have some legal options.

As it stands now, the family can sue for medical malpractice, but a suit for wrongful death would be more appropriate, their lawyer contends.

Civil lawsuits aside, what the family wants most is justice for Rebekah. They want to see someone held criminally accountable for leaving her in a van in the hot July sun.

"It's too late for Rebekah, she's dead. She's gone, and we have to live with that for the rest of our lives," Mason said.

The district attorney's office says it will present the case to a grand jury next week. But family members say because so much time has passed, they are worried that no indictments will come.
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