Deputy shocked at ER treatment of suicide victim

Family members also testify in malpractice litigation

A former sheriff’s deputy testified Tuesday that he was surprised that a mental health evaluation of suicidal patient lasted minutes rather than hours.

In the secon day of the Villelli v. Turpen malpractice suit, former Montezuma County Deputy Miguel Perez testified that a Southwest Memorial Hospital emergency room “M1” mental health evaluation of Ted Villelli on June 9, 2010, lasted 10 to 15 minutes. Montezuma County Sgt. Jason Spruell testified that similar evaluations routinely last at least an hour.

“My exact words?” Perez told plaintiff’s attorney Michael McLachlan on what he told Spruell about Villelli’s exam. “Damn, that was quick.”

According to Perez, a nurse took Villelli’s vital signs and asked the patient general health questions for three to four minutes. He said emergency room physician Dr. Mark Turpen’s check of the patient lasted about the same amount of time.

“Dr. Turpen’s examination lasted approximately five minutes, maybe at the most,” Perez testified.

Perez stated that after Villelli indicated to the emergency room physician that he was not a danger to himself or others, Turpen discharged the patient.

“The doctor said, he’s fine. Get him out of here,” Perez testified.

Perez and Spruell testified that a dispatch radio is at the nurse’s station in the Southwest emergency room, and medical officials routinely monitor police chatter. If listening, hospital officials would have heard that deputies were dispatched to Villelli’s home that night about 10 p.m. in response to a suicide call involving a shotgun.

“I did not have enough evidence to hold (Villelli) on an M1 hold,” Spruell testified.

Spruell transported Villelli home on County Road 27 after he was discharged. Spruell said Villelli promised that he wouldn’t hurt himself.

“I told him to shake my hand and tell me he wasn’t going to hurt yourself,” Spruell said. “He shook my hand.”

Spruell added that the incident was the first time a suicidal patient cleared by the hospital for a mental health hold had died by suicide.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Villelli’s wife, Renee Villelli, was the first witness called to the stand. She discovered her husband’s body about 7 a.m. on June 10, the following day, sitting next to fire pit in their backyard.

On the witness stand for nearly two-and-a-half hours, Renee Villelli stated that her husband had removed the couple’s photos from the home. She also said her husband had attempted suicide twice, in August and November of 2008.

“He was sad and looking for help,” she said, crying. “He just wanted to be done with it.”

In the last few months of Villelli’s life, Renee Villelli said that she had gone into protective mode, and removed her and the couple’s children from the home. She wanted to safeguard the couple’s teenage son and daughter from her husband’s verbal abuse and threats of physical abuse.

“I stood up as tall as I could,” she testified. “Life was hard.”

“Ted was crazy,” she added. “Ted was losing it.”

Renee Villelli also testified that she demanded that her husband turn over his 12-gauge shotgun on June 9. He refused, and she called for help.

“I told the deputies, he’s not OK,” she said. “I can’t help him anymore.”

The Villelli children, now 19, and 21, both testified abou happy childhoods on Tuesday, saying that their father was their best friend. The most emotional testimony came from the couple’s son, now married and in the Navy.

In the last days of his father’s life, the son said he’d become frustrated and angry with his father, because the family had done everything they could to help.

“I called my dad an asshole,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. “That’s the last words I said to him.”

Presiding over the malpractice suit, Chief District Court Judge Doug Walker ruled on Tuesday that a jury of six plus one alternate would not be privy to a final note left by Villelli.

Both Turpen and a hospital nurse are scheduled to take the witness stand on Wednesday. The jury is expected to decide by Friday afternoon whether Turpen was negligent in the case.

tbaker@cortezjournal.com