U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova was misquoted last Wednesday in an article dealing with an inquiry by his office into the death of a patient at St. Elizabeths Hospital. DiGenova said he would request materials from an earlier investigation by the D.C. medical examiner but did not say it was "very convenient" for city officials to rule the patient died of natural causes.
U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova announced yesterday that he will open an investigation into the case of a retarded 21-year-old man who died Jan. 18 while locked in an overheated "seclusion room" at St. Elizabeths Hospital.
Earlier this month, D.C. public health officials said that Emory Lee, whose body temperature was 106 degrees an hour after his death, died of a seizure related to his Down's syndrome.
D.C. Public Health Commissioner Andrew McBride, who on March 17 released an autopsy report and the findings of an investigation by the D.C. medical examiner's office, said he was "satisfied" with the conclusion that external factors, such as the temperature and the possible stress of isolation, had not contributed to Lee's death.
McBride said Lee was taking potent tranquilizers, and suggested that a neurological disorder caused by the medication might explain the rigidity of Lee's body and his high temperature.
But yesterday, diGenova said it was "very convenient" for District officials to rule that Lee died of natural causes, and said he would request all materials from the investigation. D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, who ordered a congressional staff inquiry into the case last month, will be the chairman of a hearing on the incident on April 15.
Lee, who lived with his mother, was at St. Elizabeths for only a few days for testing. Severely retarded and obese, with a history of heart problems and epilepsy, Lee recently had begun hallucinating and displaying aggressive behavior. He had been in disciplinary seclusion off and on for two days, according to hospital records.
Hospital officials acknowledged that the building was "hotter than it should have been," but said they did not know how warm the room was.