The friends of Victor Joseph Luckritz laid him to rest May 14. They never dreamed he would be making headlines nine days later.
Big headlines. Headlines that made "Vic" sound more monster than man. Headlines that seemed to implicate him for practicing unsafe dentistry -- treating patients without gloves -- even when he knew he was infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.
"This is the last thing any of us would have expected," said Carol Hilton, coordinator of the AIDS vaccine trials at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "We all know the risk factors of HIV infection in jail, but now everybody is blaming him."
Dr. Luckritz was the chief dentist at the Maryland Penitentiary from June 1988 to April 1990. He was responsible for overseeing dental care for inmates in the six Baltimore-area prisons. During his tenure, Dr. Luckritz is estimated to have seen as many as 4,000 inmates. Two weeks ago, inmates and prison officials discovered that he died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
A second dentist who treated Penitentiary inmates, Dr. H. Dale Scott, also died of AIDS, the dentist's brother confirmed yesterday. Dr. Scott, who filled in for Dr. Luckritz for 14 days in May and June 1989, died at 49 last October.
Since those discoveries -- and the subsequent allegation that Dr. Luckritz did not always wear surgical gloves -- the staff in the Division of Correction headquarters has worked feverishly setting up counseling and testing programs and trying to assess the state's financial liability.
Meanwhile, the friends of Dr. Luckritz try to reconcile memories of a beloved friend with the public portrait of a careless practitioner.
It doesn't sound like the once-hale 6-footer, the good-looking auburn-haired guy with the trim beard and sparkling hazel eyes. It doesn't square with the careful, considerate man they remember. And it doesn't tally with the memories a mother has of her son.
"He wore gloves. I watched him work, and he always wore a mask and gloves," said Marion Luckritz, who helped with clerical chores in her son's Dayton, Ohio, dental office. "He was always very careful, very safety-conscious. One reason he left the prison was that he said it wasn't sanitary enough for him."
Mrs. Luckritz loved Victor, her only son. The second of four
children, he was born June 30, 1943, to Marion and her husband, Victor Sr., who worked as a lithographer in a printing business. The family was close.
Victor was a paperboy. He was a good student, but his real love was theater and music. He played trombone in the school band. He loved records and radio. When he went off to college, he thought he would study architecture, but he soon told his mother there were already too many in the field. He left school and entered a Roman Catholic seminary. He went to a novitiate in New Jersey, but he discovered that the contemplative life was not for him, either.
Going back to college, Victor tried Ohio State before settling in at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville. He worked as a choreographer at a local playhouse while studying for a business degree. After graduation, he found a job as a traveling accountant for dentists. But the more he traveled, the more he felt pulled to his clients' profession. He enrolled in the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry and received a degree in May 1979.
Dr. Luckritz spent his first year as a dentist in Cincinnati. In 1980, he returned home to Dayton, where he practiced in two offices. In 1984, he answered an ad for a teaching position in Baltimore. The job didn't work out, but he stayed anyway.
"He loved Baltimore," said Mrs. Luckritz. "When he went there and it seemed the company he was with wasn't doing so well, he started looking for a private practice. Then he got the job at the Penitentiary."
The job seemed like just the thing, said Ms. Hilton. It gave Dr. Luckritz a steady income without causing him a great deal of stress. The hours were manageable.
Ms. Hilton said she never saw her friend practice dentistry. But she never saw any sores on his hands, and she has a hard time believing that he wouldn't have worn gloves.
Would he have knowingly endangered patients?
"No, emphatically, no," Ms. Hilton said. "This isn't fair to all the professionals who are infected. What are people supposed to do? Give up their careers? People who are infected are overly conscientious."
At the Penitentiary, Dr. Luckritz was an independent contractor employed by Correctional Medical Systems, a St. Louis-based subsidiary of ARA Group Inc. Maryland records show that he was first licensed here in 1984 and that his license was renewed every two years afterward.
An official for CMS said Dr. Luckritz and the company "mutually agreed" to part ways in April 1990 because of the dentist's difficulty in "interpersonal relationships" with staff and patients and because -- contrary to company procedure -- he didn't wear surgical gloves at all times.