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Dentist's Practice Compared to Assembly Line

Courts: Prosecutor says Drueciel Ford, accused of child endangerment, cut corners to boost profit. Her lawyer says patients' welfare was top concern.

November 28, 2001|RICHARD WINTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Pasadena dentist accused of child endangerment ran a practice resembling a production line, working on three unconscious children in a row with the same bloody gloves, to make more money, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Albert MacKenzie told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury in his opening statement that over-sedated children were "stacked up like cardboard" in Drueciel Ford's Green Street office. Unlicensed assistants, he said, did fillings, extractions and root canals.

"I think the bottom line is greed," MacKenzie said.

Edi M.O. Faal, one of Ford's attorneys, countered that overzealous Dental Board of California investigators and Pasadena police decided "to manufacture a criminal case" from a March 1999 accident that left a 15-year-old patient with brain damage.

"Dr. Ford loved children," Faal said. "She is more interested in the welfare of children than money being made."

Ford, 50, faces more than five dozen charges, including several counts of felony child endangerment and one count of conspiracy.

MacKenzie told jurors that Ford recklessly and inappropriately used an oral sedative, chloral hydrate, as a general anesthetic rather than to make children calm while conscious.

"The overuse of chloral hydrate was a formula for disaster," MacKenzie said. "That disaster occurred March 15."

That day, he said, Melissa McGrath received an overdose of the sedative while having a tooth pulled and was clinically dead in Ford's office for 28 minutes. The girl had a heart attack and was resuscitated by paramedics but suffered brain damage.

Faal disputed the contention that the girl was overdosed and brought back to life 28 minutes after "dying."

"She was not killed," he said. "She was being treated and a medical emergency developed." Faal said that there are other medical explanations for the heart attack and that the girl never showed symptoms of a chloral hydrate overdose.

Witnesses, he said, were threatened and intimidated into changing their statements to help the prosecution's case.

Faal said a dental assistant initially told authorities that she gave McGrath three to four teaspoons of chloral hydrate, within the allowable dosage. But under pressure from a Dental Board investigator, the assistant later said she gave the equivalent of 24 teaspoons, Faal said. Prosecutors say that is six times the recommended maximum.

Outside the jury's presence, Faal contended that the Dental Board investigator needed testimony to the larger dosage after another deputy district attorney rejected the case. That prosecutor, Judge Lance Ito ruled, may not be called as a witness.

Jurors are expected to hear dozens of parents contend that their children were unconscious after Ford treated them and were returned to the parents in a "rag doll" state. Faal told jurors that investigators enlisted those parents by advertising Ford's case in the media. He said that none of the children were taken to see a doctor or to a hospital and that there is no physical evidence they were over-sedated.

Jurors heard Tuesday from Tina Tate, a former dental assistant for Ford. In exchange for her testimony, prosecutors last month dropped charges against her of practicing dentistry without a license.

Tate, a 12-year employee, said Ford had her do fillings and crowns and even extract teeth from children, in knowing violation of the law.

She testified that Ford sometimes had as many as five children sedated at once. Tate said she gave children chloral hydrate without weighing the youngsters to determine the proper dosage.

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