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VA Hospital Chief Calls 2 Deaths Killings

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VA Hospital Chief Calls 2 Deaths Killings


The acting chief of staff at Veterans Administration Hospital said Saturday he is now certain that two patient deaths resulting from respiratory arrests were deliberate killings.

“We have ruled out completely the possibility of medical coincidence, error and drug contamination,” Dr. Duane T. Freier said.

“That leaves us with the fact that some, perhaps many, of the respiratory arrests were caused by someone with intent,” he said.

Dr. Freier speculated that the killer is a mentally unstable person.

The doctor’s comments were the first official public statement, despite speculation in the past week, that a killer was responsible for some of 41 cases of respiratory arrests over a 19-day period ending on Aug. 15.

His comments followed Friday’s reports that Pavulon, a muscle-relaxing drug, was found in urine samples taken from a patient who survived a recent respiratory arrest.

Detroit FBI agent Joe Bailey told reporters late Saturday that “our investigation is along the lines of one that would be conducted in a murder case.” But an Ann Arbor FBI spokesman told The News that, despite an intensified FBI investigation at the hospital, “the status (of the investigation) is very quo.”

Commenting on a report that the FBI now has no suspects in the case, the local agent said: “That is and isn’t true.”

"If you’re working on an embezzlement case at a bank, and you know there was embezzlement and you know who was there, you have suspects,” the agent said.

“It’s the same at the hospital. But if you’re concerned with the possibility of an arrest of an individual, then there are no suspects. We have no warrant for an arrest.”

The intensified FBI work Saturday and agents guarding hospital files, drugs, equipment and glassware while a VA medical official from Washington sifted through hospital records.

Dr. John Chase, national VA medical director, flew here late Friday to work with medical and FBI investigators.

Meanwhile FBI agents swept through hospital wards, continuing their questioning of the 700-member hospital staff.

FBI questioning reportedly centers on trying to place “any one person” near or at the scene of the respiratory arrests. They also are trying to determine what type of person would inject fatal doses of Pavulon into patients.

Dr. Freier said he believes the killer is “a psychopath — a very sophisticated psychopath with a great deal of medical knowledge.”

He said that he does not believe that euthanasia or mercy killing are the motivations of the person being sought.

“The pattern (of the respiratory arrests and deaths) is not right,” Dr. Freier said. “This person is more like an arsonist, starting fires and sitting back to watch what happens.”

A pattern in the deaths and suspect respiratory arrests reportedly emerged in a probe that began a week ago.

The probe was started when VA officials reportedly were alarmed at an especially high number of respiratory arrests, 41, since July 28. Seven deaths resulted from the 41 arrests that affected 23 patients.

The pattern has led FBI officials to concentrate their current investigation on 15 cases of respiratory arrests and two deaths. The names of victims have not been disclosed.

Dr. Freier said his belief that a killer is involved in the respiratory attacks is “widely held at the hospital.”

“I think this theory has been held for the past week,” he admitted. “And, frankly, it’s a relief to rule out negligence or something like contaminated medicines as the reason. There’s a feeling that we can come closer to a solution to the problem now that the possibilities are narrowed.”

Dr. Freier described the mood at the hospital as “calm and professional,” and said that “morale is good” among staff members and patients.

However, he said the hospital continues limiting admissions and surgery to emergency cases while the FBI probe continues.