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State Concedes Inaction in Doctor's Probe : Investigation: Medical board failed to act quickly on complaints about physician. He is charged in deaths of Mission Viejo couple and injury of girl in collision.

July 14, 1993|LESLIE BERKMAN and LILY DIZON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS;Times correspondents Frank Messina and Anna Cekola contributed to this report

LAGUNA BEACH — State medical officials acknowledged Tuesday that they failed to act quickly to investigate a Laguna Beach doctor with a history of drug-related arrests who was charged in a deadly head-on collision Sunday.

Internist Ronald Joseph Allen, 31, who was held on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, on Tuesday was charged with two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. A Mission Viejo couple was killed and their 11-year-old daughter remains in critical condition.

It was the third time in two years that Allen had been arrested on drug- and alcohol-related charges. The second arrest prompted a Laguna Beach hospital to terminate Allen's staff privileges and report it to the California Medical Board.

But the board apparently failed to act on the report filed by South Coast Medical Center, and an official acknowledged Tuesday that quick action might have helped.

The hospital's report "sat on a clerk's desk for a month" and wasn't entered into the board's enforcement computer system, where it would have triggered an investigation that might have pressured Allen into a special substance abuse program for physicians, said Dixon Arnett, the board's executive director.

"If there had been a way to have taken action and ring the wake-up call and (Allen) had responded, there is treatment," Arnett said.

The state's inaction wasn't the only lapse in the way that state and local officials handled matters involving Allen's arrests.

When Laguna Beach police arrested him in June in connection with a hit and run, a computer check by officers failed to inform them that Allen already had an outstanding court warrant for resisting arrest and drunk driving stemming from an April, 1992, collision in Laguna Niguel.

Although there's no immediate explanation as to why the computer check didn't alert officers, it wouldn't necessarily have kept Allen from driving. But it would have prompted officers to detain him and require him to post bail on the warrant.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Molko said that if Allen is convicted, each count of gross vehicular manslaughter carries a maximum of 4, 6, or 10 years in prison.

The California Highway Patrol, which investigated the accident, has said it will ask that murder charges be filed against Allen, and Molko said Tuesday that "pending further investigation, we haven't made a decision on that yet."

Meantime, Karie Minzey underwent a brain operation and remained in critical condition at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana. Her parents, Mark and Noreen Minzey, were killed when Allen's vehicle reportedly hit their car head-on on Silverado Canyon Road.

Two friends riding in the Minzeys' car were slightly injured and later treated and released from a hospital.

Allen, who specializes in treating patients infected with the AIDS virus, remained hospitalized with minor injuries in the jail ward at Western Medical Center-Anaheim. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges today, Molko said.

As the news of Allen's arrest circulated in the medical community Tuesday, people who know him said his erratic behavior had previously caused them to worry.

"He was an accident waiting to happen," said Dennis Amick, a nurse and clinical director of a hospice program for AIDS and cancer patients in Newport Beach. He said said Allen displayed "typical drug behavior. He was erratic, angry one minute and apologetic and nice the next minute."

Amick said his suspicions about Allen's drug problems were confirmed when he received a telephone call from Allen after his June 1 hit-and-run arrest.

"He said he was trying to commit suicide by taking drugs and that he ended up being admitted" to the intensive care unit, Amick recalled.

Officials at South Coast Medical Center acknowledged Tuesday that Allen was admitted to the hospital that night, but they declined to reveal whether it was drug-related.

Despite a life apparently spinning out of control, some of Allen's colleagues and friends saw him as a dedicated doctor who devoted many nights and weekends to his patients.

"I don't know if he had a drug problem or not, but I do know he was a very compassionate person and put in a lot of time with his patients," said Steven Coppola, president of Laguna Shanti, a Laguna Beach organization that provides assistance to people afflicted with HIV and other life-threatening illnesses.

Yet police reports revealed Tuesday that Allen was clearly involved with drugs.

In the June 1 crash, police said Allen tried "violently" to resist arrest several times after he allegedly had rammed his car into three parked vehicles.

When police had Allen under control on the ground, the report stated, "he made statements to the effect that he wanted to die, that he wanted a gun so he could shoot himself."

The report also stated that Allen was carrying a cardboard box in which police later found a variety of prescription drugs, including Halcion, a sleeping pill, and Vicodin, a pain killer.

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