Va. state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds ends weeks of silence since son’s attack, suicide

Ending weeks of near-silence, R. Creigh Deeds has opened up to his hometown newspaper about the tragedy that left him badly wounded and his only son dead.

“He could do anything, and do it well,” the Virginia state senator told the Recorder, speaking about 24-year-old Austin “Gus” Deeds, who attacked his father before killing himself seven weeks ago.

Deeds (D-Bath) explained to the paper that his son, a smart and musically gifted student at the College of William and Mary, had begun behaving strangely about 31 / 2 years before his death. Twice in 2011, Deeds had taken steps to have his son committed involuntarily to a mental hospital. But Deeds said that, in part because of medical privacy issues, he never knew whether his adult son had ever received a diagnosis of mental illness.

“Physicians are required by law to protect people, and I think that’s good, but I also think sometimes physicians and sick people hide behind it,” he said in the Recorder interview.

Austin Deeds went back to college, but last fall, he was struggling and told his father that he wanted to live with him, said Deeds, who is divorced from Austin’s mother and has remarried.

Austin moved into his father’s Millboro home, and his father connected him with a psychologist and professionals with the local Community Services Board, which administers mental health services.

But when Deeds returned from a long-planned two-week trip to Ireland to scatter his mother-in-law’s ashes, he found that his son had not been attending scheduled meetings with mental health professionals and was writing disturbing things in his journal.

For the third time, Deeds obtained an emergency-custody order. Austin Deeds was taken to Bath Community Hospital for evaluation. The evaluator had trouble finding a bed for him, although at least three area hospitals later said that they had space and were not contacted. The six-hour limit on the order ran out, and father and son went home.

“Some time that night, Gus determined I was evil and needed to die,” Deeds told the Recorder.

The next morning, his son stabbed him. Deeds, bleeding from his face and chest, walked to the end of his driveway, police said at the time. A cousin, driving by, spotted him, called police at 7:25 a.m. and drove him to a nearby farm. A helicopter flew the senator to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, where doctors performed surgery.

His scars have faded, but he told the newspaper that he lost part of his tongue, making it difficult to speak, and some feeling on his right side. He learned of his son’s death, he told the Recorder, while in the hospital recovering from his wounds.

Deeds has tried to avoid public attention since returning to the state Capitol in Richmond this week, though he is determined to make changes to the mental health system he says failed his son. One bill he has introduced would lengthen the emer­gency-custody period from six to 24 hours. Another would create a minute-by-minute registry of beds available in public and private psychiatric facilities. Two other Deeds bills would launch studies of the state’s mental health system and Community Services boards.

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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