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Medical malpractice suit under way stems from slaying of couple

Citizen Staff Writer



A medical malpractice lawsuit filed by the mother of a mentally ill man who stabbed his grandparents to death on April 10, 2005, is being heard this week in Pima County Superior Court.

The suit was filed by Lisa Lambeth and her sister, Karen McCollum, daughters of the late Carl Gremmler, 76, and Patricia Gremmler, 72, against a publicly funded behavioral health agency and the psychiatrist who treated Christopher Lambeth for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Filed in March 2007, the suit alleges medical malpractice by the psychiatrist, negligence by the behavioral agency and asks for punitive damages from all defendants for the loss of their parents.

However, COPE Behavioral Services Inc. says in court documents that it “believes” Lambeth, now 24, “was wholly and/or partially at fault in causing” damages to the Gremmler family.

Lambeth pleaded guilty but insane to two counts of first-degree murder in March 2007.

His attorney, Ryan Metcalf, said then that Lambeth was in a psychotic state when he stabbed the couple multiple times in their bed. The bodies were found two days after the stabbings.

Lambeth, who had been living with them, was found lying in his bed at their home.

In April 2007, Lambeth was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences at the Arizona State Hospital in Phoenix.

According to documents in the civil suit, Dr. Virgil Hancock was a contract psychiatric provider for COPE.

He began treating Christopher Lambeth in late 2003 and was his psychiatrist until Lambeth killed his grandparents.

On Sept. 22, 2004, Hancock saw Lambeth “in the presence of his mother” and the youth reported he was taking his medications.

His mother said he wasn’t taking the medication and on Oct. 19, 2004, she called Hancock, asking that her son be admitted to a psychiatric hospital without going to an emergency room, but the psychiatrist refused.

On Oct. 26, 2004, she told Hancock her son “would not be medication compliant in the future and would become violent.”

On Nov. 16, 2004, he was admitted to Sonora Behavioral Health Hospital “after physically menacing his mother and punching holes in the walls at her home.”

“A COPE note prepared at or about this date signed by Dr. Hancock states that Christopher Lambeth was unable to control his anger and was homicidal and had a target and a plan,” the lawsuit states.

“This homicidal ideation was not disclosed to the family before, during or at any time after his hospitalization,” according to the lawsuit.

Lambeth was discharged from Sonora and then spent 24 hours at COPE’s Ocotillo drug treatment facility.

He was discharged on Nov. 19, 2004, and taken to his grandparents’ home.

A COPE case manager had called Lambeth’s mother and sister and asked them to take him into their homes. They refused, saying they feared having him in their homes.

His mother said he was “dangerous and violent” when he didn’t take his medications.

“No day program or other supportive behavioral health services were offered,” the suit states.

“The case manager then persuaded Christopher’s sister to transport Christopher directly from Ocotillo to his aging grandparents’ home.”

According to the suit, Lambeth’s mother repeatedly asked for residential behavioral health services for him in 2004 and was told none was available.

On April 7, 2005, Hancock saw Lambeth for a regularly scheduled appointment, along with his mother and his case manager.

“Lisa again asked COPE to get Christopher out of her parents’ home. No residential or other behavioral services were offered,” the suit states.

“(Lisa) expressed fear and concern about Christopher’s history of violence toward her and his grandparents when he was not taking his medicine.”

Lambeth said he wasn’t happy living in the rural community of Rillito with his grandparents.

Lambeth was incarcerated as a juvenile in 2001 for nearly 10 months in a domestic violence case. His parole in that case ended in October 2002.

In 2003, he was court-ordered to receive services from COPE after he was arrested for marijuana possession.

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