Family claims earlier try at suicide But jail officials deny inmate made attempt

October 14, 1997|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

The family of a 23-year-old man who hanged himself at the Baltimore County Detention Center on Saturday night said yesterday that jail officials had stopped an earlier suicide attempt -- an allegation swiftly and vehemently denied by police.

The father of Laurie Wade Batten Jr. said he was told of the attempted suicide in a telephone call from jail Friday afternoon.

"He tried Friday but they stopped him," the father, Laurie Wade Batten Sr., said in an interview at his Overlea home. "He said he was going to hang himself. I said, 'God can't help you if you're going to do that.' "

The elder Batten said the call was cut short after he heard a voice ordering his son to get off the phone because the cell bed was going to be checked.

The younger Batten was found by other inmates about 6 p.m. Saturday, hanging from the sprinkler attachment in his cell. He had used a sheet as rope, said Baltimore County police spokesman Sgt. Kevin Novak. But Novak disputed the account of an earlier suicide attempt.

"We can totally deny that that occurred," Novak said. "There was no suicide attempt prior to Mr. Batten's death on Saturday evening."

The matter remains under police investigation, and Novak had no additional comment.

The younger Batten's Oct. 8 arrest on burglary and theft charges was based on a complaint that he had broken into and robbed the Rosedale home his sister shares with her husband and daughter. A police report said he stole a watch, two rings, a checkbook and a piggy bank.

That complaint -- and his parents' decision to keep him incarcerated by withdrawing bail -- were last-ditch efforts by a family in despair over his addiction to heroin.

"We all knew he needed help. We didn't want to put him in jail but we thought it would help," the elder Batten said yesterday.

He, his wife and daughter, Dana Bucalo, said the young man had become addicted to heroin in the past year. The family had become worried by changes in his manner, recurrent depressions and weight loss. Psychiatric treatment, counseling and efforts to get him into drug treatment centers and hospitals had failed.

The suicide threats weren't new -- Batten had told an eighth-grade classmate that he would kill himself, and the family had taken him to counseling. For a while after that, Batten seemed to be happier -- back to his charming, personable self.

Throughout his brief high school career -- he dropped out at 16 -- Batten flirted with marijuana and cocaine, his sister said.

Earlier this year, his drug of choice became heroin, and the family knew he was in trouble. He always seemed to need money.

"At first it was $10, then it was a lot more," Bucalo said. "I think he was using more and more. At first he was sniffing it, then he was shooting it."

When Bucalo realized her brother had a serious drug problem, she went to her parents. The elder Batten went to talk to his son, who was living with a girlfriend.

"I said, 'Do you want to end up on the street?' " he recalled yesterday.

But the heroin use continued, said his parents -- along with arrests for theft, burglary and drug possession. His parents would bail him out, take him back, and the cycle would begin again.

Finally, family members all agreed: Jail might be the only hope for the young man.

"We became concerned that he would get desperate to get drugs," the elder Batten said. He told police where his son could be found and arrested.

"Everybody was telling us -- he can't hurt himself in jail. So how can this happen?" Bucalo said yesterday. "Why weren't they watching him?"

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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