Hospital sued in violent deaths

Families allege negligence in psychiatric cases

Men treated days before events

One former patient killed himself

another 2 others

Columbia

March 26, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Two families are suing Howard County General Hospital, alleging that negligence by the institution - and mistakes made by its doctors - contributed to the violent deaths of their children during separate incidents in 2001.

Kevin Allen Virgil, who committed suicide after shooting at his girlfriend and barricading himself in his Ellicott City apartment, and Benjamin Morgan Hawkes, who fatally stabbed and bludgeoned his mother and a teen-ager staying at their Ellicott City home, had been treated at the hospital for psychiatric ailments within days of the violence.

Both were released by doctors who did not "adequately diagnose" and treat the psychological ailments of either man or recognize the danger they posed to themselves or their loved ones, according to two separate complaints filed this week in Howard Circuit Court.

"We're just seeking accountability and responsibility," said A. Donald C. Discepolo, the Towson attorney who represents Virgil's mother, Rose Virgil, and the parents of Teena Wu, the teen-ager killed by Hawkes.

Mary Patton, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said she could not comment on pending litigation. Two Baltimore lawyers listed as hospital attorneys on the complaints did not return calls seeking comment.

The Wus' wrongful death complaint also names Hawkes, 28, who was found not criminally responsible for the killings of Teena Wu, 18, and his mother, Mary Jane Hawkes, 59, on Feb. 11, 2001. Hawkes was committed indefinitely to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, where he is "doing well in his treatment," according to his attorney, John E. Harris Sr.

Harris said Hawkes has filed a claim against the hospital with the state Health Claims Arbitration Board, a required first stop for all medical malpractice cases, and plans to transfer the case to Howard Circuit Court soon.

"We basically feel that this entire tragedy could have been avoided had the hospital complied with acceptable standards of medical care," he said.

Both complaints also list the men's treating doctors - although the Wu lawsuit says the doctor's name is unknown - at the hospital.

The lawsuits were filed about three years after Hawkes and Virgil, each suffering from psychological problems and during episodes separated by six months, were taken to Howard County General for treatment, according to the complaints.

While at the hospital Feb. 10, 2001, Hawkes, who had been suffering from paranoia and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was diagnosed as suffering from anxiety and sent home with a prescription for anti-anxiety medicine, according to the lawsuit and other court records.

The next day, Hawkes - with an American flag draped around his neck and alternately believing himself to be Jesus Christ and Satan - walked four miles from a friend's home to his parents' home on Wild Filly Court and used at least two knives and a sledgehammer to kill Mary Jane Hawkes and Wu, according to court records.

Six months later, Kevin Virgil, 23, was involuntarily admitted to the hospital after he told a former teacher that he had bought a gun and was "thinking about hurting himself and his ex-girlfriend," according to the lawsuit.

He was released the next day, Aug. 8, 2001, according to the lawsuit. Two days later, Virgil assaulted his ex-girlfriend, chased her and her mother into a neighboring unit at the Orchard Crossing apartments and fired several shots at the women, according to police accounts.

Later, armed with a shotgun, he barricaded himself in an apartment. Officers who stormed the apartment found him dead from a gunshot to the head, according to police.

A similar lawsuit filed against Dorchester General Hospital by the families of Centreville Officer Michael S. Nickerson and Queen Anne's County Deputy Jason C. Schwenz, who were killed by Francis M. Zito on the Eastern Shore in February 2001, was recently resolved in a confidential settlement, said Discepolo, who also represented those families.

Zito, who had a history of mental illness, was released from the Cambridge hospital after receiving psychiatric care there less than three weeks before shooting the two officers.

At the time, an attorney for Dorchester General said Maryland "grants absolute immunity to doctors who have to deal with this kind of individual."

Discepolo acknowledged that there are immunity concerns that may apply to the Wu lawsuit, but not to the Virgil lawsuit.

"We believe that the facts are sufficient to overcome the immunity statute," he said.

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