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Healer's Patient Described as Desperate

Dead man's son speaks out. Authorities seek help from others who may have been treated by Van Nuys woman.

October 31, 2002|Jean Guccione and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

Luis Caceres said his 54-year-old father was desperate when he arrived at the doorstep of a Van Nuys faith healer Monday evening for an injection that police believe killed him.

Roberto Caceres, a handyman, had suffered from an irritating body rash that medical doctors couldn't seem to cure, his son said Wednesday at a news conference outside the Van Nuys police station.

The rash caused the elder Caceres to miss so much work that his employer threatened to fire him, Caceres said. Without a job, his father would lose his medical insurance.

"My dad was sick for two years. He went to a lot of doctors," Caceres said. "He had an HMO. They never wanted to go the extra mile for him.... They always gave him the same medicines. It didn't help."

Roberto Caceres heard about Reina Isabel Chavarria on a popular morning show on a Spanish-language radio station and traveled from Santa Ana to the modest white house in the 15700 block of Marlin Place for help.

"He had a lot of faith in this girl," Caceres said. "He didn't know he would die."

He said he had begged his father not to go, but his father was afraid that his persistent illness would cost him his job and medical insurance.

"I had a feeling it was not the right thing," the son said.

Caceres spoke near a framed photograph of his parents, Roberto and Hilda Caceres, and mug shots of the women accused of killing his father.

Chavarria, 48, and her assistant, Margarita Montes, 28, were arrested Monday on suspicion of manslaughter, which carries a bail of $25,000.

Chavarria posted bail and was released from Van Nuys jail before prosecutors filed additional charges Wednesday and asked that bail be raised to $75,000. She is set to be arraigned Nov. 19.

The women were charged Wednesday with two felonies, involuntary manslaughter and the unauthorized practice of medicine causing death.

Montes pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. She is being held in lieu of $75,000 bail.

If convicted, each defendant faces up to nine years in prison.

Police say the first time Roberto Caceres went to Chavarria's house, he paid $310 and was given ointments and pills. These didn't cure the rash and he returned Monday for two injections, costing $140.

Montes first told Roberto Caceres and his wife that the first injection was vitamin B12, said Los Angeles Police Det. Al Aldaz. Then, she said, the patient looked nervous and she offered him a second injection of an unknown substance.

After the shot, Caceres went into convulsions and died minutes later at Valley Presbyterian Hospital, police said.

Aldaz said the women refused to call for emergency help and forced Roberto Caceres and his family out of her house as soon as he fell ill.

Police officers were nearby on an unrelated matter and responded to cries from family members for help, he said.

Authorities still do not know what the injections were. They are awaiting the results of an autopsy to be performed today.

Detectives are seeking the public's help in locating other possible victims and to learn more about the defendants, who have lived together in Van Nuys for about a year.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Los Angeles Police Department Homicide Division at (818) 756-8377 or the watch commander at (818) 756-8346.

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