Family of woman found dead at suburban health club speaks out

BURR RIDGE, Ill. -- The family of a woman found dead inside a bathroom stall at a suburban health club two days after entering is speaking out.

The preliminary autopsy report from the Cook County Medical Examiner shows Patricia Austin, 78, died of natural causes.

The family is not disputing that right now, but they said the circumstances surrounding her death just don’t add up.

“For 78, she could outrun most,” Terry Austin, Patricia Austin’s son, said.

That’s how he remembers his mom—always on the move and bringing a smile to the faces of everyone she met. But now he and his siblings are in pain wondering how it is that their mother laid dead in the handicapped bathroom stall of Life Time Fitness Health Club in Burr Ridge for two days without anyone noticing.

“Right now I have no answers so I really don’t blame anyone at this point, but I need to find the answers to what happened,” Terry Austin said.

He has hired an attorney to help him with his search. So far they have been able to determine Patricia Austin checked into the club on July 12, just after 7 p.m. Her car remained parked in the handicapped spot near the entrance until a club member discovered her body on the evening of July 14.

“Several hours later he gets the call from the funeral home saying we don’t know what you were told at the club but your mom didn’t die Friday evening, she’s been dead for at least a day or so,” Mark Novak, an attorney, said.

Life Time Fitness spokesman Jason Thunstrom released the following statement:

We are terribly saddened by this tragedy and continue to have our heartfelt thoughts and prayers with the family. As a large facility with several thousand members visiting daily, it is not uncommon for bathroom stalls to be occupied as staff conducts their cleaning protocol. Out of respect for members, cleaning staff do not disturb individuals in occupied stalls. Moreover, cleaning staff rotates throughout the course of the day with responsibility for cleaning varying as shift changes occur. Finally, during the club’s brief closure period each day, it is not uncommon for members to be completing their workouts and using bathroom facilities before departing, or for our staff members to be using the same bathroom facilities.

Novak said that’s not acceptable and has filed a petition for preserve evidence in the case. He’s asking for all surveillance video, the names of staff on duty, cleaning schedules and other protocols.

“What’s so egregious is how did they closed this club twice with his mother’s body remaining in there,” Novak said.

“My hope is first of all to find the answers as to why and how something like this could happen, I just don’t understand how somebody could be left in a stall for two days,” Terry Austin said.

The Burr Ridge police department said it has closed its investigation saying no foul play was indicated.

The attorney said he’s not filing any lawsuits at this point. He wants to wait until their investigation is complete. He said that could take at least 30 days.

Terry Austin said he hopes at the very least he wants to bring attention to his mother’s death so that it doesn’t happen to another person, particularly an elderly person ever again.