Report: Deeds expresses anger at state agency that failed son, vows fight for change


In a Nov. 3, 2009, file photo, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Creigh Deeds makes a speech to supporters after losing the Virginia governor's race to Republican Bob McDonnell, in Richmond, Va. At far left is Deed's son, Gus Deeds. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Virginia state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, who is recuperating at home after his son stabbed him before taking his own life last week, blamed a local mental-health agency for the tragedy in an interview with a Bath County newspaper Monday.

Deeds told the Recorder newspaper that the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, which administers mental-health and substance-abuse services, is “responsible” for Austin Deeds’s death. The senator, who was the 2009 Democratic nominee for governor, said it was too soon to talk in detail about his son’s death but vowed to help other families in crisis receive the help they need, the Recorder reported.

“I cry a lot. I can’t focus now and talk to anyone,” Deeds said in an exchange of e-mails with the newspaper’s publisher and a reporter who has covered him for years. “I have very strong opinions about the CSB, and feel like they are responsible. My life’s work now is to make sure other families don’t have to go through what we are living.”

Deeds, 55, was stabbed in the face and chest by his son after an argument last Tuesday outside their rural Bath County home in western Virginia, according to police. Austin Deeds, 24, was later found inside the house, dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.

Austin Deeds, who was known as Gus, had undergone a psychiatric evaluation the day before, and a magistrate judge had issued an emergency custody order to allow mental-health officials to evaluate him. But Deeds returned home that evening because, officials said, no psychiatric bed could be located before the order expired.

Three nearby hospitals say that they had space but were never contacted. State officials explained later that it was possible the community services board ran out of time before it could reach a hospital with a bed.

Six years after a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech before killing himself, the Deeds incident has brought renewed scrutiny to the state’s mental-health system. Both Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the state’s inspector general have launched investigations into what went wrong for Austin Deeds.

“I hope we can make a positive change as a result of this tragedy,” the elder Deeds told the Recorder. “I hope the justice we can get for my son is to force change in the delivery system for mental-health services.”

In Virginia, mental-health authorities can hold a person for four to six hours under an emergency custody order. After that, a magistrate must issue a temporary detention order to allow a person to be held for 48 to 72 hours for further evaluation and treatment. The second order cannot be issued without an available bed; absent that, and at age 24, the younger Deeds would have been free to leave.

The responsibility to find a spot for such a patient falls to one of 40 community services boards and behavioral-health authorities that form the front end of the state’s mental-health system.

The senator told the newspaper that part of the problem is the rural community’s isolation from state services.

“Bath and Highland [counties] are the end of the line,” Deeds said. “It seems inconvenient for those people to provide services here. I have heard from people in Rockbridge about lack of services, too, so I think there may be a bigger problem here. I am alive for a reason, and I will work for change. I owe that to my precious son.”

Anne Adams, the Recorder’s publisher, said Deeds was reluctant to meet with anyone in person to discuss what happened.

“He is very, very tender; I’m sure more emotionally than physically,” Adams said in a telephone interview. “He’s just not ready to see anybody. Understandably. They’ve lost their son. In 22 years, this has been the most crushing story I reported here.”

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