Investigation into 10 Truman patients’ deaths will continue

But Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane did not say if Williams is still a suspect.
Friday, August 8, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:03 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The case officially remains open.

A day after murder charges were dismissed against Richard Williams, Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane said the investigation into the deaths of 10 patients at Truman Veterans Hospital is still active.

“Words cannot express how sorry I am for these families and these veterans,” Crane said.

In a press conference Thursday morning, Crane expressed his feelings about the dismissal of the charges against the former nurse and the impact on the patients’ families, but he was less clear about the future of the investigation or whether Williams is still considered a suspect in the deaths.

Crane emphasized that the investigation will continue to be pursued by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General, and the science will be pursued by National Medical Services. He did not elaborate, however, on the role of Boone County in further investigation.

After more than 13 months in the Boone County Jail, Williams was released Wednesday after lab tests provided no definitive conclusions that the 10 patients died in 1992 as a result of being injected with succinylcholine, a muscle relaxant. Earlier findings by National Medical Services that the drug had been used were key in the decision to arrest Williams.

Also providing statements at the press conference were Don Petrole, assistant inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General, and Rob Middleberg, the National Medical Services lab director.

Petrole said the case is still considered under investigation by his office.

“In light of the National Medical Service’s revision of the May ’02 opinion of their findings, regarding the toxicological testing in this case, we certainly support Mr. Crane’s decision,” Petrole said. “The inspector general feels strongly about our obligation to investigate any circumstances where our nation’s veterans may have been subjected to criminal activity at a VA facility. We continue to consider this an open investigation.”

Middleberg also expressed support for Crane and restated the laboratory’s findings in the case.

Stephen Gaither, public affairs officer for Truman Veterans Hospital, said it is hard to say what the cost of the investigation has been to the hospital.

“So much energy and time has gone into this,” he said. “It would appear that we’ve come full circle. We still do not know what happened to those veterans in the spring and summer of 1992.”

Several participants in the case have also said they hope the investigation continues and want to see an end to the case.

Gordon Christensen, former associate chief of staff of the Truman Veterans Hospital, said, “It should be about the families. They still do not know what happened, and they still have no answers.”

Eddie Adelstein, Boone County medical examiner, said Wednesday he thinks succinylcholine was not the likely cause of death. Instead, Adelstein said, the most likely cause was air emboli, which he defined as an obstruction of the circulatory system caused by an air bubble. This can be caused by injecting substantial amounts of air into the circulatory system with a syringe.

Crane also said that at this time that it would not be possible to press any lesser charges against Williams, and that any further civil lawsuits would remain up to the families of the patients and their private attorneys.

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