Caregiver admits to slapping disabled client who later died, gets 6 months

A Fayetteville woman admitted in court Sept. 17 that she slapped a young disabled woman in the face to whom she had given care for over nine years. Testimony also revealed that Gayle Powers Elsholz was verbally denigrating the victim at the same time.

The victim, Laura Michelle Smith, was unable to defend herself because she could not physically move, nor could she even talk. Fortunately her mother happened to return home just as the Jan. 17 incident occurred.

Stacey Smith testified that when she got to her daughter’s side, she could see “the fear in her eyes” even though Laura at 24 years old didn’t know how to cry.

Tragically, Laura Smith died in April. There was some concern that the slapping incident may have led to Smith’s death by perhaps affecting a shunt that led from her skull to relieve fluid, but in the end there was not enough evidence to bring a murder charge against Elsholz, said Fayette County Assistant District Attorney David Younker.

Smith testified that she was concerned that Elsholz, 58, had abused her daughter before without her knowing. Elsholz later would testify that she had never previously struck the victim.

Asked why she slapped Laura Smith and called her a “little s**t,” Elsholz said she was upset about a second more qualified caregiver who had been hired to help the Smith family with Laura.

“I felt like I was not looked upon as favorably,” Elsholz said. “... In a way I felt belittled.”

At the end of the hearing, Elsholz tearfully apologized to the Smiths as she asked for forgiveness.

Elsholz was sentenced to 180 days in a probation detention center, though she must wait in the Fayette County Jail until a bed in a detention center becomes available.

Once that part of the sentence is served, Elsholz will remain on probation for the remainder of her five-year sentence issued by Superior Court Judge Tommy Hankinson. While on probation, Elsholz will not be allowed to give care to any other adult or child except for her own family members.

Elsholz will also pay a $1,000 fine ordered by the court.

Although the abuse at the hands of Elsholz was bad, losing Laura several months following the incident was obviously a significant blow to the family as Stacey Smith and her husband, Dr. Ron Smith, testified.

Dr. Smith, a local pediatrician, spoke lovingly about his daughter and how she came to be severely developmentally disabled due to a medication Mrs. Smith had taken before she found out she was pregnant.

Seizures Laura suffered when she was 13 robbed her of the ability to smile or laugh, but they didn’t rob her of her parents’ love. Stacey Smith said her daughter was definitely a “daddy’s girl” who would “light up any time he walked into the room.”

“I loved Laura Michelle with all my heart,” Dr. Smith said. “... I sometimes feel quite lost without her.”