ER doctor on trial for patient’s suicide

A jury will decide if a Southwest Memorial Hospital emergency room doctor was negligent two years ago when a Cortez man committed suicide.

A jury of six women and one man were impaneled late Monday afternoon to decide the malpractice suit against Dr. Mark Turpen. The plaintiff, Renee Villelli, claims Turpen was negligent in providing her husband, Ted Villelli, with proper medical treatment on June 9, 2010.

“They didn’t want to bother with Ted Villelli,” plaintiff’s attorney Michael McLachlan told jurors.

During his 40-minute opening statement, McLachlan said Turpen spent four minutes with Ted Villelli after Montezuma County Sheriff’s deputies, at the request of his wife and son, brought him into the hospital for a mental health evaluation. McLachlan said the suicide assessment should have taken at least an hour.

According to McLachlan, Ted Villelli had suffered from years of documented depression and twice tried to take his life during a four-month period in 2008. The plaintiff’s attorney said financial and family problems compounded the issue, making the situation worse in the spring of 2010.

“Our evidence, our witnesses and our facts will show that Dr. Turpen, one, breached the standard of care and was negligent regarding the treatment of Ted Villelli; two, that he could have prevented Ted Villelli’s suicide; three, that he caused the death of Ted Villelli; and most of all, that Mrs. Villelli and her children suffered.”

During his seven-minute opening statement, defense counsel John Mullen asked the jurors to rely on testimony and evidence presented during the five-day trial, rather than argumentative statements made by opposing counsel. He said Turpen’s own hand-written medical notes from the night in question reflect that he provided adequate care.

“What happened after Mr. Villelli left the hospital is a tragedy,” Mullen told jurors, “but we can’t judge this case with hindsight.”

“We leave this to your collective wisdom,” Mullen said.

According to court officials, 100 juror notices were mailed for the civil trial, and 55 potential jurors appeared in court Monday morning. After hours of voir dire, seven jurors including a business manager, the wife of a police officer, an artist and a retired teacher were impaneled to decide the case.

Jurors were admonished by Chief District Court Judge Doug Walker to refrain from discussing the case with anyone, reading any news reports, conducting Internet research or forming opinions until all evidence was presented.

“Keep an open mind during the trial,” Walker said.

The trial resumes Tuesday starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Montezuma County Courthouse in Cortez.