Bandera treatment center sued after Air Force vet’s fatal fall from water tower

Retired Technical Sergeant Gabriel Wasnuk died after fall from tower in October 2020

BANDERA – The family of a retired Air Force veteran who fell to his death at a Bandera treatment center in 2020 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit accusing the facility of failing to prevent the accident from happening.

Gabriel Wasnuk, a retired technical sergeant who was medically discharged after serving in the Air Force from 2000 to 2015, died on the property of Warriors Heart in October 2020, about a week before he was scheduled to complete in-patient treatment at the sprawling Bandera ranch.

The treatment center offers services for military members, veterans and first responders seeking treatment for issues ranging from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to chemical dependency.

Wasnuk, a 39-year-old Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, had been receiving care at the facility since that August for what an attorney for his family described as “post-deployment issues.”

Wasnuk’s body was found on a concrete slab at the bottom of 30-foot water towers.

Investigators with the Bandera County Sheriff’s Office later determined that Wasnuk likely climbed one of the towers and then slipped off the condensation-covered tank. Traces of green paint on the bottom of Wasnuk’s shoes matched the tower’s paint, a sheriff’s office report states.

Photos from the scene obtained by the Defenders show ladders to access the towers were just off the ground and that security panels that would have prevented someone from climbing the towers were unlocked.

Sheriff’s investigators ruled the case an accidental death. In December 2020, a medical examiner ruled Wasnuk’s death an accident caused by blunt force injuries, records state.

“Gabriel was a great person. Everyone that we’ve talked to about him, (says) he was an amazing man and made a huge impact on everyone’s life,” said Jacy Pawelek, an attorney representing Wasnuk’s family.

(Ret.) Technical Sergeant Gabriel Wasnuk. (KSAT)

She said that Wasnuk served three tours of duty as an explosive ordnance team lead in Iraq and Afghanistan, suffering multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBI), before receiving a medical discharge from the military. Photos shared with the Defenders show that Wasnuk had a prominent scar on the side of his head.

Pawelek has taken issue with what she described as Warriors Heart’s refusal to come out publicly and state that Wasnuk did not take his own life.

According to the sheriff’s office report, marks on the top of the tower indicated that Wasnuk had attempted to catch himself before falling off.

Investigators who searched Wasnuk’s room at Warriors Heart after his death found no signs of foul play and did not find a suicide note, the sheriff’s report states.

Pawelek said Wasnuk, who had been living in New Braunfels prior to seeking treatment, had made plans to move to Colorado after leaving the care of the facility.

Two of the last people to see Wasnuk alive, a staff member and a fellow patient, told investigators Wasnuk was acting normal hours before his death and simply complained of having trouble sleeping.

Through a spokeswoman, the CEO of Warriors Heart declined to comment for this story, citing the pending litigation.

Ladders cut after Wasnuk’s death

Footage captured by Sky 12 late last month showed the ladders on the water towers have been drastically shortened and no longer appear to be accessible to people standing at the base of the tanks.

“I think it was very preventable,” said Pawelek.

Footage from Sky 12 captured last month shows a water tank ladder at Warriors Heart cut back and no longer accessible to people standing on the ground, a change from what pictures from the scene of Wasnuk's death in October 2020 showed. (KSAT)

The suit against Warriors Heart seeks up to $1 million in damages and accuses the facility of committing gross negligence in not preventing Wasnuk’s death while he stayed on their property.

Pawelek did not have a timeline for when the suit would go to trial and said that it is currently in the discovery stage.

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About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.