McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

September 28, 2012

Deaths at Narconon Arrowhead spur two more lawsuits

By Jeanne LeFlore
Staff Writer

McALESTER — An attorney for the families of two patients found dead at Narconon Arrowhead says lawsuits against the facility could be filed next week. Meanwhile, officials await autopsy reports in an investigation into four known deaths tied to the Scientology-based facility.Narconon Arrowhead is a national nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Canadian.

The facility has been under investigation by Pittsburg County officials, the District 18 District Attorney’s office, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health since July when 20-year-old Stacy Murphy was found dead while she was a patient of the facility.
On Thursday, a Tulsa attorney said lawsuits against the facility could be filed as soon as next week. The attorney, Gary Richardson, represents the families of Murphy and  of Gabriel Graves who was also found dead at Narconon Arrowhead.
“We have been doing a lot of work in these cases and we are hoping to have the lawsuits filed next week,” Richardson said.
Narconon officials have declined comment in the deaths beyond expressing sympathy for the families involved.
In July, Murphy’s death caused officials to take a closer look into the deaths of two others who died while patients of the facility in a span of less than a year.
 From October 2011 until July of 2012, three people were found dead at the Narconon Arrowhead.
According to police reports in October 2011, the body of Gabriel Graves, 32, was found dead in his bed facing a wall in his room at the facility. In April, Hillary Holten, 21, was found dead face down in her bed, also in her room at the facility. Murphy was also found dead at the Narconon facility in July.
 Officials are also looking into the 2009 death of Kaysie Dianne Werninck, 28, who died while admitted as a Narconon patient. 
In August, a lawsuit was filed by Matthew and Suzan Holten, the parents of Hillary Holten. The suit, filed Pittsburg County Court on Aug. 23, alleges that Narconon did not provide adequate medical care for Hillary Holten and that she died as a result of Narconon’s negligence.
According to the lawsuit, after Hillary Holten was admitted to a hospital for health-related issues, she tested positive for drugs. Her parents found Narconon Arrowhead after searching for a  rehabilitation center with “the hopes that she could obtain treatment for drug issues.” 
The lawsuit also states that the parents were assured the facility had adequate medical staff who could properly manage their daughters Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, a condition which required daily doses of Dexamethasone and in extreme circumstances, an injection of liquid cortisone. 
A negligence lawsuit against Narconon Arrowhead involving the 2009 death of Werninck was settled April of 2011, according to court records.
Meanwhile, Pittsburg County officials are still waiting on reports from the Oklahoma Chief Medical Examiner to continue their investigation.
In July, the District 18 First Assistant District Attorney Richard Hull said the results would take four to six weeks.
Now, more than eight weeks later, officials are still awaiting for the results.
“We haven’t received anything yet,” said Joel Kerns, Pittsburg County Sheriff.
Kerns said after he receives the medical examiners’ reports, he will pass the  results to the DA’s office and to determine whether charges will be filed.
 In August, more evidence into the investigation of Graves’ death was added to Kerns’ case after an April autopsy report revealed other items were found with his body. According to the ME report, “A white pillow with dried brown fluid staining along with a clear, colorless plastic bag, (accompanied) the body in a separate body bag.”
On Thursday, Kerns said the pillow and the other items were turned over to the OSBI for further examination.
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Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.