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Investigation of incident in which mentally ill man was paralyzed continues

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 23. 2014 12:37AM


MANCHESTER — A criminal investigation attempting to pinpoint who had custody of a mentally ill Manchester man when he suffered a broken neck that left him paralyzed continues more than three months after the incident.

A state prosecutor Wednesday said she understands state and city police investigating the incident involving Fern Ornelas, 53, have not yet turned all their reports over to Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia M. LaFrance.

"Until we get all those reports, we can't make any moves forward," New Hampshire Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said.

She said it's possible the reports may be ready by the end of the month. Once done, Rice said she expects to review them jointly with LaFrance and "determine what steps are appropriate."

LaFrance, who has been overseeing the investigation, has not returned repeated calls or an email seeking comment this week.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan said Wednesday he expects the three-man team reviewing issues that face hospital emergency rooms to release its findings soon.

The governor appointed the team Nov. 4. to study what she called a "crisis in our emergency rooms." This was most recently demonstrated during two seperate violent incidents in the Elliot Hospital emergency department involving patients being held there while waiting for a bed to open at the state's acute psychiatric hospital.

One incident involved Ornelas and another incident occurred this summer when a patient allegedly attacked two staff members.

The team also will examine broader mental health issues facing the state.

Ornelas went to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston Oct. 17 with what family and friends say was a broken neck that left him paralyzed from the neck down. He has been at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield since Dec. 12.

Ornelas went to Elliot Hospital emergency room Oct. 15 for a psychiatric episode. He allegedly attacked a security officer the next day. The two reportedly exchanged blows to the head until the guard subdued Ornelas with pepper spray and the help of at least two other security officers and a Manchester police officer, according to police and hospital accounts.

Ornelas went to Manchester police headquarters, where he was charged with simple assault, then went to Hillsborough County House of Corrections about midnight Oct. 17. Ornelas returned to the hospital in an ambulance at 9:30 a.m. that day paralyzed with a broken neck, family and friends said.

The criminal investigation seeks to determine how and when Ornelas suffered his injuries. Given it is a criminal probe, its findings could include recommending criminal charges.

Ornelas' family and friends say they anxiously await results of the investigation. On July 8, Angel Kinglocke, 34, of Manchester allegedly attacked two Elliot Hospital emergency department staff after waiting three days for a bed to become available at New Hampshire Hospital, the state's acute psychiatric facility. One staff member suffered critical injuries.

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