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January 08. 2014 10:33PM

Family of emergency room patient, now paralyzed, still looking for answers

MANCHESTER— The emergency room patient whose cause of paralysis is under investigation by state and local officials has been moved to Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center, where he remains paralyzed and awaits an explanation of what happened to him, the New Hampshire Union Leader has learned.
Manchester resident Fern Ornelas has been at the facility for the last three weeks, according to a family member. Ornelas does not remember anything that happened after being struck by Elliot Hospital security guards at the hospital emergency room on Oct. 16, said the person, who asked not to be identified.

Manchester resident Fern Ornelas has been at the facility for the last three weeks, according to a family member. Ornelas does not remember anything that happened after being struck by Elliot Hospital security guards at the hospital emergency room on Oct. 16, said the person, who asked not to be identified.

Ornelas was charged with assault after the altercation, booked at the Manchester police station and sent to Valley Street Jail around midnight. But by the next morning, the jail medical staff had Ornelas returned to the Elliot Hospital, and he was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital.

His family, which has been cautious in its remarks to the public, subsequently said Ornelas' neck was broken and he is paralyzed from the neck down.

Shortly after the injuries became known, local and state prosecutors opened a criminal investigation. Prosecutors in the Attorney General's Office say Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance has the lead oversight in the investigation and referred questions to her.

Last week, LaFrance said she has not received the final investigation from State Police Sgt. Fred Lulka, the investigator in charge of the case. Efforts to reach Lulka this week were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Manchester residents who know Ornelas await an explanation.

"You don't have to be a genius to figure out what happened," said Phil Provencher, a friend of Ornelas. He said they both grew up in east Manchester.

"There's a lot of people (mad) about what's happened. This could have happened to anyone," he said.

The family member interviewed this week said Ornelas spoke to investigators from the Attorney General's Office on Dec. 17. Ornelas spoke about the emergency room incident. But Ornelas had nothing to say about being booked at the police department or sent to the Valley Street Jail.

Next thing Ornelas knew, he woke up at the Massachusetts General Hospital, the person said. Investigators told Ornelas they were 97 percent complete with their work, the person said.

Meanwhile, little has changed in Ornelas' condition. He cannot walk or use his hands. He has had a low-grade fever since arriving at Crotched Mountain, the person said.

Ornelas' physicians would prefer he enter the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, which has acute-care facilities and rehabilitation hospitals in several Massachusetts locations. But because he is on Medicaid, Ornelas is at Crotched Mountain, the person said.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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