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Patient's broken neck a mystery after Elliot Hospital fracas, arrest

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 22. 2013 10:11PM

MANCHESTER — The Elliot Hospital psychiatric patient who was forcibly restrained after he allegedly attacked a security guard Oct. 16 went to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston the next day with a broken neck and may be paralyzed as a result, a close family friend said Tuesday.

"It's not good. He is communicating with his eyes only. He can't talk," William Gosselin said of Fern Ornelas, 54.

"He had a broken neck when he left Valley Street jail," added Gosselin, 54, who lives in the same 479 Cilley Road apartment building as Ornelas' younger brother, John, and has known Fern Ornelas since sixth grade.

Gosselin said John Ornelas and Ornelas' sister, Anna, visited their brother at Massachusetts General Hospital Sunday. Gosselin said he is kept apprised of Ornelas' condition directly by the family, who also have had to dispel rumors that their brother died as a result of his injuries.

John Ornelas was at work Tuesday and attempts to reach him were not successful.

Gosselin's accounts provide the first indication of what happened to Fern Ornelas and his whereabouts since the morning of Oct. 17 when he did not appear for his arraignment in Manchester District Court on a misdemeanor simple assault charge.

The charge stems from his alleged attack on Elliot Hospital security officer Lawrence Bolduc about 7:25 p.m. Oct. 16 while Ornelas was being held in the secure psychiatric evaluation unit waiting for a bed to open at New Hampshire Hospital, the state-run acute psychiatric facility.

Both Ornelas and Bolduc, a retired state trooper, suffered "significant" facial wounds that required emergency room treatment, police have said. After the hospital "medically cleared" Ornelas, Ornelas went to Manchester police headquarters for booking, then was transported to the Hillsborough County House of Correction, police and a hospital spokeswoman have said. He arrived at the Valley Street jail about midnight Oct. 17, police said.

Hillsborough County House of Correction Superintendent David M. Dionne has maintained all week he does not know the nature and extent of Ornelas' injuries and refused to disclose the Boston hospital where he is being treated for "security reasons."

During a brief telephone conversation Tuesday morning, Dionne said he still knows nothing about Ornelas' condition even though he said a jail nurse and physician ordered Ornelas be returned to Elliot Hospital about 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Oct. 17.

Dionne said the Boston hospital "is still running tests" on Ornelas and hospital staff were not keeping him informed of Ornelas' medical condition. He did not return several telephone calls seeking updates.

But Gosselin said Massachusetts General Hospital staff called John Ornelas and his sister, Anna, about 2 a.m. shortly after Ornelas was admitted there Thursday seeking information that would help explain Fern Ornelas' injuries.

"Mass General was angry. They couldn't get any information about what happened to him. The police, the jail and the hospital — nobody was talking," Gosselin said.

"Everybody was hush, hush about it," he added.

Dionne denied Ornelas was attacked while at the jail.

Elliot Hospital said Ornelas returned by ambulance about 9:30 a.m. Oct. 17.

"He arrived in serious condition. The manner in which he sustained the injuries that required medical attention on the morning of...Oct. 17 is unknown to the Elliot."

Ornelas was brought to the hospital's emergency department by his sister, Anna, on Oct. 15, according to Gosselin and Elliot. Ornelas' car had hit a small tree on Hillcrest Avenue about 5:25 p.m., Police Lt. Maureen Tessier said. Ornelas, who was alone in the car, was unhurt and the car sustained so little damage it was driveable, she said.

But the patrolman found Ornelas to be "confused" and "not completely aware of what was going on," Tessier said. There was no indication Ornelas was impaired by drugs or alcohol. The officer called a relative to come get Ornelas.

Gosselin said John Ornelas' wife, Brenda, picked up Ornelas and brought him to 479 Cilley St. while she waited for Ornelas's sister, Anna, to take him to Elliot Hospital.

Ornelas, who suffers from a mental health disability, "was off his meds. You could tell," said Gosselin, who said he was home at the time.

"It's not the first time that he's had an episode," he added.

Ornelas was being held in the secure psychiatric evaluation unit when he allegedly became agitated and disrupted other patients, police said. When Bolduc attempted to walk him back to his room, he allegedly punched the officer repeatedly in the head. The two exchanged blows until Bolduc — using pepper spray — was able to get Ornelas to the floor, police said. Other security officers and Manchester Police Officer Paul Rondeau, who was working a paid security detail, helped restrain Ornelas as he continued to struggle, police said.

Elliot Hospital said Bolduc used his training to subdue Ornelas. They said Ornelas was "walking and talking" when he left the emergency department in Manchester police custody.

"Elliot is proud of our security officer in this case and the action he took to protect the lives of other patients and personnel in the emergency department," the hospital said.

Manchester police Lt. Tessier said Ornelas cooperated during his booking, which lasted about an hour and was "uneventful."

"Obviously, we will review the arrest and his period of time in our custody. We have no reason to believe there was anything inappropriate that occurred while he was in our custody. We will review his stay with us to confirm that," Tessier said.

Dionne said Monday he is conducting a creating a time line of events and investigating everyone who had contact with Ornelas.

Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance and Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery A. Strelzin said their offices have received no requests so far to become involved in the case.

Ornelas remains in corrections department custody and has a corrections officer in his hospital room, Dionne has said.

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