The Board of Supervisors, which turned down a request for 143 new guards at Los Angeles County hospitals last year, promised Tuesday to improve security at health facilities in the wake of the emergency room shooting of three doctors.
"There should be no excuse for not having a security system in place to prevent this from happening again," Supervisor Mike Antonovich said during a tense hearing after Monday's bloodshed at County-USC Medical Center. "It appears to be a major breakdown when someone highly armed comes in (to an emergency room) like this."
As the supervisors took up the security issue, the doctor most seriously wounded in the attack improved dramatically and police provided new details about the 40-year-old loner accused of terrorizing the emergency room.
The hospital siege was only the latest in a series of violent incidents at overcrowded and understaffed hospitals, offices and clinics. The dangers were underscored when--not long after scores of police officers descended on the facility to handle the shooting--an armed man raped a student nurse in a County-USC parking structure. There were no arrests in the rape, which occurred at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Supervisor Gloria Molina suggested that years of cuts in county services have contributed to the violence at county facilities. "We're always struggling with the dollars that we have," Molina said. "If we are creating situations that are dangerous, we need to know that as well."
The board responded by ordering an immediate review of security practices at the hospital and all other county health facilities. Supervisors also called for additional Safety Police officers at County-USC and for exempting security personnel from a countywide hiring freeze.
All three shooting victims continued to improve Tuesday. Drs. Glen Rodger and Paul Kazubowski were in stable condition, while Dr. Richard May--who was shot point-blank in the head and chest--was in critical condition after undergoing two operations overnight.
But even May's condition improved dramatically Tuesday. He is able to move his arms and legs and can respond to questions by blinking his eyes or squeezing the questioner's hand, doctors said.
Friends and colleagues described May, Roger and Kazubowski as dedicated physicians with the easygoing personalities needed for emergency room screening work. May was one of the first physicians to volunteer for the emergency room's triage unit, an often difficult and unpleasant assignment.
The suspect in the shooting, Damacio Ybarra Torres is scheduled to be arraigned today on three counts of attempted murder and two counts of kidnaping, police said. He was being held at the Parker Center jail.
At an afternoon news conference, police investigators released new details of the shooting and displayed the elaborate arsenal they said Torres carried into the emergency room, including a semiautomatic pistol, a revolver, a rifle and a 10-inch hunting knife.
Authorities said Torres also carried two pairs of handcuffs, which he used to attach himself to the hostages during a five-hour standoff with police.
Police also recovered a variety of military paraphernalia from Torres' Skid Row room. Lt. John Ferguson of the LAPD's Hollenbeck Division speculated that Torres may have been a survivalist.
Ferguson said Torres lived alone at the $15-a-night Ford Hotel, in a room decorated with a National Rifle Assn. sticker and posters of the Los Angeles Raiders and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He had no family in Southern California. A sister who lives in Texas told police she had not spoken with her brother in 12 years. Police said Torres had no steady job. His only fixed income was General Relief welfare payments. He had no criminal record.
"To the best we can determine, Mr. Torres was upset with some medical treatment he received at the hospital," said Lt. Tom Lorenzen.
Torres, who was initially identified as an AIDS patient, may not have the disease, police said Tuesday. County officials said Torres appeared at the emergency room on three previous occasions over a five-year period for treatment of unspecified "minor complaints." He was last treated at the facility in August, officials said.
"The first indication there was any problem was when he started firing," said Sol Bernstein, the medical center's chief of staff.
Lorenzen added that Torres traveled to the hospital "determined that he was going to shoot and seriously harm (medical personnel) for his belief that they did not treat him properly."
Torres, after shouting a demand for pain medicine, fired seven shots from his semiautomatic pistol, five of which struck the doctors, police said.
During the chaos immediately after the shooting, a hero emerged. Registered nurse Timothy Dufelmeier risked his own safety to drag May out of harm's way, hospital officials said.