Details emerge on special needs man found dead in pond

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Report on Adam Vaughn’s death: “During my investigation, I did not find enough evidence to show any criminal intent by the care provider responsible for the victim’s care.”


DESTIN — He didn’t like being alone, hated to exercise and loved to watch horror movies.

And when it was time to go on outings with his group home manager and two housemates, Adam Vaughn always wanted to sit in the front seat.

“Adam really did enjoy his life,” said Lynn Miller, who managed and lived in Adam’s group home for most of the last year of his life. “He was very happy. He was easy to please.

“It was also easy for him to become overstimulated.”

Miller left the home two months before Adam wandered away from his caregiver during a trip to the Morgan Sports Center in Destin. The next morning, the 40-year-old developmentally disabled man was found dead in a retention pond a mile from the complex.


The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office extensively investigated the circumstances around Adam’s disappearance and death, but closed the investigation this month without pursuing criminal charges. Adam’s Dec. 1, 2017 death was ruled an accidental drowning.

“Unfortunately whatever drew Mr. Vaughn’s attention led him in the direction of the detention pond where his body was found,” the report said. “During my investigation, I did not find enough evidence to show any criminal intent by the care provider responsible for the victim’s care.”

Adam, who was a guardian of the state, had a court-ordered pre-paid service and burial. His family, who lived out of state and had no apparent contact with Adam, was notified of his death by the agency handling his guardianship, according to the offense report.

Miller said that Adam told her he had a happy childhood, playing outside and chasing his family’s chickens. She remembered Adam as a happy, talkative man, who would point out cute children and animals, but would never approach them.

Trip to Destin sports complex

On the night that Adam went missing, he was with one of his caregivers and another man from their Laurel Hill group home, according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office offense report.

The caregiver had brought the men to the sports center to watch the soccer games being played that evening. He also played soccer “on and off” throughout the night, apparently leaving the men alone for short periods of time, investigators learned.

Exact details about the men’s care plans were redacted out of the Sheriff’s Office report, but much of the investigation focused on whether they were supposed to have been left alone and whether either of them was deemed capable of going to the restroom by themselves.

It was determined that Adam was regularly allowed to go to the restroom by himself and that his caregivers had never had a problem with “elopement.”

His housemate, who was unharmed, required 24-hour-a-day care. The company running the group home was unaware that the caregiver was taking the men to Destin for the games, the report said.

Adam’s caregiver told investigators that he is involved in soccer and that he “integrates the people he takes care of in a passion of his life,” the report said. He estimated that he’d played in about 10 minutes of each game that night.

“The caregiver …. (said) this was not their first time at the sports complex and it was not Mr. Vaughn’s first time going to the restroom on and off,” the report said.

He said he noticed Adam missing at about 9:30 p.m. and searched for about an hour before calling the Sheriff’s Office.

Adam’s body was spotted floating face down in a retention pond just before 7 the next morning. There were no signs of foul play or drugs in his system. The medical examiner said that Adam had drowned.

Disliked the water

His current caregiver also said he wasn’t aware that Adam disliked the water. But Miller said Adam got upset whenever their day trips involved going to the beach or area springs. He couldn’t swim and was afraid of the water, she told investigators.

No one reported seeing Adam from the time he wandered away until his body was found. It’s impossible to know what went through his mind as he found himself in the dark, in a strange town, or the horror he likely felt when he stumbled into the pond. 

Miller said that he didn’t know how to approach people and ask for help, and she guessed that Adam had a panic attack and blacked out.

“He wasn’t one to separate,” she said. “Whatever it was had to be something with an urge — that he had to go to the restroom or grab a drink of water— and the next thing he realized, he wasn’t in his group.”

According to the Sheriff’s Office press release sent out after his body was found, Adam couldn’t read and didn’t know his address.

But, Miller said, he had memorized every word to his favorite song, a remake of an ’80s song called “Whole Wide World,” and would sing along when it came on the radio. The song is about traveling the world to find the one girl for you.

“He was such a flirt,” Miller recalled. “And he always wanted a girlfriend. He would pretty much propose to any of the ladies that he would get attached to.

“He was definitely a lover at heart. And really wanted to lead as normal a life as possible.”

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