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Son Arraigned After Forcing Hospital to Pull Plug on Father

December 25, 1985|ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writer

Contra Costa County prosecutors have decided--at least for the time being--not to file murder charges against a man accused of holding a nurse hostage at gunpoint until his cancer-stricken father was disconnected from a hospital life-support system and allowed to die.

Edward T. Baker, 37, was arraigned in Bay Municipal Court in Richmond Tuesday on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment. Bail was set at $10,000.

"A decision will be made on whether or not to charge the suspect with homicide after further investigation" into circumstances surrounding the death of 69-year-old Edward C. Baker, Dist. Atty. Gary T. Yancey said.

San Pablo Police Chief David Sylstra said the elder Baker died about 10 minutes after Jackie Higginbotham, a supervising nurse at Brookside Hospital in San Pablo, disconnected him Saturday night from a ventilator and intravenous tubes that had been sustaining his life.

However, coroner's deputies made no mention of the disconnection of the life-support system when they announced on Monday that an autopsy showed the man had died of carcinoma of the esophagus, one of the least treatable forms of cancer.

Capt. Al Moore, commander of the coroner's division of the county sheriff's-coroner's office, said Monday that the finding could be changed "if we determine there were other significant factors" in the death.

As of Tuesday, however, the cause of death had not been amended, and officials said toxicological tests were not expected to alter the finding.

Police Chief Sylstra has urged prosecutors to charge the defendant with first-degree murder, saying there is evidence that the father's death was premeditated.

"A person can understand why Baker did what he thought he had to do under the circumstances, but he could just as easily have gone in and shot him or smothered him with a pillow," Sylstra said. "What's the difference? As far as I'm concerned there is no difference. . . . The father's dead, and he's the cause of it."

'Appeared Angry'

Hospital spokesman Fraser Felter said the defendant had visited his father in Brookside's intensive-care unit Saturday afternoon and "appeared angry" when discussing his father's condition with hospital officials.

The defendant reportedly returned to the unit about eight hours later, pulled a revolver, grabbed nurse Florence Derego in a headlock, pressed the gun barrel against her head and demanded that his father be removed from the life-support system--threatening to kill Derego if his demands were not met.

Sylstra said Higginbotham, who was on duty in the unit, disconnected the mechanisms, and Baker knelt down to make sure the plug had been pulled and the intravenous systems removed. Higginbotham called the hospital switchboard, and officers arrived at the scene within five minutes.

The chief said Officer Chris Gormley tried to persuade Baker to release Derego and drop his gun, but the defendant refused to comply until he was convinced that his father was dead.

Sylstra said Baker then turned to the officer, whom he knew, and placed the revolver on the floor, telling Gormley:

"It's over, Chris. You can come in and get me."

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