ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — Last year, the I-Team first reported about a small St. Pete Beach hotel and how it was at the center of a guardianship case.
At the time, we reported how a local realtor who barely knew the elderly owner took her to court to have her placed into guardianship.
That elderly woman, Genyte Dirse, died after she acquired COVID-19 at an assisted living facility.
Dirse was honored last Friday by a small memorial service, held beside a bench where she used to sit and watch passers-by and listen to the pounding waves.
The spot is just a short walk from the small hotel which Dirse owned and where she lived for decades.
Friends and family gathered on the beach, while social distancing and wearing masks to protect themselves against the deadly virus that killed Dirse.
“Genyte will be sorely missed both by her family and her many friends who she inspired,” said her great-nephew Gediminas Pakalnis during the memorial.
The short tribute included the reading of poems and scripture, as well as the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
Pakalnis tells the I-Team Dirse was a devout Catholic who attended mass regularly before she was placed in guardianship.
Genyte Dirse died May 5 of COVID-19.
She turned 86 on May 1.
The medical examiner reported her medical history included end-stage dementia, hypertension and anemia.
In 2018, Dirse's court-appointed guardian moved her into an assisted living facility, where she was one of a dozen residents infected with COVID-19.
She ended up in guardianship after St. Pete Beach realtor Diana Sames -- who barely knew her -- asked a judge to put Dirse into guardianship, alleging her great-nephew Gedminas Pakalnis exploited her.
In December 2017, Dirse sold one of her three hotel buildings to Pakalnis for a below-market price.
We tried to reach Sames by phone and email, but she didn’t return our messages.
But when we talked to her last year, she defended her actions.
This is our original story from February 2019: https://wfts.tv/3fQS2oU
“I'm happy with the attorney that helped me file a guardianship so that Miss Genyte could have her interest taken care of,” Sames said at the time.
The case took an unexpected turn in November when Dirse's court-appointed guardian Traci Hudson was arrested and charged with a felony count of exploitation of an elderly person.
Before her arrest, Hudson had filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dirse, against her great-nephew, asking the court to reverse the hotel sale.
Because of that court battle, Hudson and Dirse's new guardian would not let her great-nephew speak with Dirse, even after she was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late April.
He tells the I-Team he believes guardianship could have impacted her health.
“You can’t be 100% sure about things, of course, but being in a healthy environment, near the beach, fresh air, a lot of sun, being outside, she loved being outside. She was a strong woman,” Pakalnis said.
Even though Dirse has passed away, the hotel is still at the center of that civil lawsuit against the great-nephew.
That trial has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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