Boy with Autism Dies After Being Restrained at School, and 3 Employees Are Charged with Manslaughter

Max Benson, 13, became unresponsive after being physically restrained for more than an hour

Max Benson

Nearly a year after a teenager with autism died after being physically restrained at a California school for students with special needs, several school employees are facing criminal charges for their alleged roles in his death.

On Tuesday, the El Dorado County District Attorney announced the filing of charges against three people working at Guiding Hands School, Inc., a school in El Dorado Hills.

The school’s executive director and site administrator, Cindy Keller, as well as the principal, Staranne Meyers, and a special education teacher, Kimberly Wohlwend, were all charged with felony involuntary manslaughter stemming from the death of Max Benson.

In addition, Guiding Hands School, Inc., as a corporation, is also being charged with one count of felony involuntary manslaughter, a statement from prosecutors explains.

All of the defendants are scheduled to be arraigned today. Formal pleas have not been entered by any of them.

“This charge is based on the November 28, 2018, prone restraint of a minor student by Kimberly Wohlwend that resulted in that student’s death,” reads the statement.

Max was restrained, his face to the floor, for an hour, according to investigators.

Benson, 13, died two days after he was allegedly restrained by staff at the school after becoming violent.

While he was restrained, investigators allege Max become unresponsive. A teacher at the school performed CPR, reviving him, and he was rushed to UC Davis Medical Center.

“This case is being filed after a lengthy, multi-agency investigation into the facts and circumstances that led to the death of this student,” it continues.

Guiding Hands School, Inc., is a privately operated, publicly funded school specializing in providing educational services for students with needs so exceptional they cannot be met in a public school setting.

“On December 5, 2018, The California Department of Education suspended the certification of Guiding Hands School, Inc., and the school was subsequently closed,” the statement notes.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE’s free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

The school had been operational for more than 25 years. A new school has opened up at the same location.

The three women were booked and released from jail on Nov. 10, according to authorities.

A candlelight memorial for Max is set for Sunday at 2 p.m. on the steps of the district attorney’s office.

Related Articles