Police investigators said Wednesday that a hospital closet bar designed to give way under pressure did not work properly, allowing a former TV game show host to hang himself in the psychiatric ward of a Glendale hospital.
Meanwhile, county health officials have opened their own investigation into the death of entertainer Ray Combs, who hanged himself with a bedsheet Sunday morning at Glendale Adventist Hospital. The 40-year-old Combs, a Glendale resident, was best known as host of "The New Family Feud" from 1986 to 1994.
"It's a very serious concern when a patient kills himself," said Jean Olander, program manager of acute care facilities for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. "We will be looking to see if there are violations of regulatory requirements."
Olander said the county investigates all unusual deaths and all suicides in hospitals and nursing homes.
Alicia Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Glendale Adventist, said the hospital would not comment on the closet bar or any other aspect of the case.
Glendale Police Sgt. Rick Young said that nurses at the hospital were checking on Combs every 15 minutes because he was agitated and self-destructive and had attempted suicide twice in the days before his death. Police committed him to the psychiatric ward at Glendale Adventist for a 72-hour observation period just hours after his release from St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, where he had been treated for a Valium overdose.
On the way home from the first hospital, Young said, Combs jumped from his wife's moving car and made his way to a friend's house where, after banging his head against the wall, he set out for home announcing that he was going to hurt his wife. The friend notified police, who arrested Combs at the family home.
Young said that while the nurses in Glendale Adventist were away, Combs apparently took the sheets from his bed and wrapped them around the closet bar to hang himself. The closet was equipped with a breakaway bar, "but it didn't break away completely," Young said.
An orderly found Combs dead about 4:10 a.m. Sunday.
Said Young: "If someone is intent on [committing suicide], no matter what precautions you take, they can do something."
Young said the allegedly faulty bar did not constitute criminal negligence but suggested that it might be grist for a civil suit.
He said that the criminal investigation into Combs' death was closed, pending a report from the county coroner's office, due later in the week.
Olander said the state does not require psychiatric rooms to have breakaway bars in their closets, mandating only that patients be kept in a safe environment.
Still, she said, closet bars have been a matter of concern for some psychiatric hospitals because of the potential for distraught patients to hang themselves. Some hospitals have removed all bars, and some have installed the breakaway type.
"If the breakaway bar didn't break," she said, "that would be something we would look into in our investigation."
The investigation, which is likely to take several days, will also focus on whether an appropriate medical plan was devised for Combs.
Combs' wife, Debra, said through a spokeswoman that she and her family did not wish to comment.
"They're just trying to get through each day," said the spokeswoman, who added that the news media would be barred from Combs' funeral Friday.