Bucks official charged in sex attack on 92-year-old

Bedminster Township supervisor, 76, tells authorities that dementia patient in wheelchair consented.

By Pervaiz Shallwani
Of The Morning Call

The 76-year-old chairman of the Bedminster Township supervisors was charged Thursday with sexually assaulting a 92-year-old woman at a Doylestown Township nursing home, in what a Bucks County prosecutor called an ”incomprehensible crime.”

Robert Holland, the head groundskeeper at Pine Run Community Health Care Center for the last 15 years, told police he has known the woman for many years and believed his relationship with her was consensual, First Assistant District Attorney David Zellis said. Holland said the incidents have been taking place since November.

Police said a nursing assistant walked in on Holland last week while he was having sexual contact with the woman, who uses a wheelchair and suffers from dementia so severe she would have been unable to consent.

Zellis said Holland disabled an alarm that alerts nurses when a patient leaves a wheelchair, lifted the woman out of her chair and placed her on a couch.

”This is an incomprehensible crime, and it’s beyond belief that it happened in Bucks County, let alone anywhere else,” Zellis said. ”I have been doing this for 21 years, and I have never seen anything like this.”

Flanked by his lawyer, Ray McHugh, Holland looked straight ahead as he tried to avoid cameras outside District Judge Robert Gaffney’s office in New Britain Township.

”He has no comment,” McHugh said.

News of Holland’s arrest shocked fellow Bedminster supervisors. Holland, who is married, has been a supervisor since 1990 and chairman of the board since 1996. He was at a board meeting Wednesday night.

”I’m speechless,” Supervisor Eric Schaffhausen said. ”I don’t know if you believe that of anybody, but there are some people you don’t believe that of more than others, and on a scale of one to 10, I would say Bob Holland is a 10.

”He is quite a devout Catholic. That’s just not Bob Holland. There’s got to be something.”

Holland, who had access to the otherwise secure building through his job, was caught May 5 when Pine Run nursing assistant Martha Palena walked in on him and saw him having sexual contact with the woman, Doylestown Township police said.

Before Holland could notice, Palena left the room and contacted supervisor Kathryn Zazenski, police said, noting Palena followed proper procedure. Building security and police were called. Zazenski and nurse Lisa Swartz went to the room to confront Holland.

Zazenski and Swartz knocked on the door before entering, startled Holland and saw he was still having sexual contact with the woman, police said.

Zazenski told Holland to leave the room. Security guards held him until police arrived, and police removed him from the premises indefinitely, Pine Run Executive Director Kenneth Confalone said. Holland was fired on Monday, Confalone said.

”I think we were stunned when the staff came upon the incident, and heartsick for the family,” he said. ”It’s amazing; he was a 15-year employee here. We just can’t understand it, though there is certainly no doubt. You certainly don’t know another person.”

According to an arrest affidavit, the woman was diagnosed with severe dementia in 2004 and her doctors reported she was unable to give consent due to her condition.

Having known the woman for years, Holland believed he had a bond with her, Doylestown Township Police Chief Stephen White said. ”I don’t believe he understands the gravity of what he has done,” White said. ”He thought this was a relationship.”

Holland was arraigned before Gaffney, released on $100,000 unsecured bail and told not to have any contact with the woman or to go near Pine Run. He is charged with aggravated assault, institutional sexual assault and indecent assault. If convicted, he could face 22 years in prison and $50,000 in fines.

White said he doesn’t believe Holland assaulted any one else at the home or that any other victims will surface. ”At this point, I don’t believe that is going to occur,” White said.

Holland, who has lived at 3042 Bedminster Road since 1966, worked as a dairy farmer for 30 years before retiring in 1985. He still owns Wolf Run Farms in the township.

As a supervisor, Holland has been involved in shaping present-day Bedminster, where strict zoning has helped to spread homes over rolling hills to maintain a rural farming feel.

Under his leadership, the township has fought and won battles against developers who sued it over rules preventing denser subdivisions.

A Republican, Holland served on the township Planning Commission before being elected to the board of supervisors in 1989. He has since won two uncontested elections to the three-person board, replacing Warren Kulp as board chairman in 1996. His current term as supervisor expires at the end of 2007.

Township solicitor John Rice said he was aware of the criminal investigation and had no comment on the allegations. ”If he is going to be arrested, we need to see the charges before we move forward,” he said.

According to township law, Rice said, Holland is not obligated to resign or step down unless he is convicted. ”In terms of the township,” Rice said, ”he is charged with a crime and he is innocent until proven guilty.”

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