Jackson County

When the hospital released a suicidal Hurley man, he went straight to a bridge and jumped

Robert Vermilyea of Hurley jumped off the Mississippi 613 bridge to his death in the Escatawpa River in Moss Point in October 2014. The bridge is pictured here in 2011.
Robert Vermilyea of Hurley jumped off the Mississippi 613 bridge to his death in the Escatawpa River in Moss Point in October 2014. The bridge is pictured here in 2011. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Randy Vermilyea of Hurley was determined to die.

Jackson County sheriff’s deputies spent 90 minutes talking him off the ledge of the Pascagoula River Bridge in the predawn hours of Oct. 12, 2014.

They took him to Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula, where doctors and a nurse assessed and released him after more than two hours. He walked out barefoot and called his daughter to pick him up.

He did not tell her he had tried to commit suicide. On the way home, Vermilyea, who his attorneys say suffered unrelenting back pain, said he felt sick and asked his daughter to pull over on the high-rise bridge over the Escatawpa River in Moss Point.

She watched as he jumped off the bridge to his death.

Nobody disputes the basic facts in the record before the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Vermilyea’s wife and daughter are suing Singing River Health System, along with the Emergency Room Group Ltd., two doctors and a nurse over his death and the emotional pain his daughter says she has suffered from watching her father commit suicide.

Theresa Danko's son, Sebastian, killed himself five years ago, now she is working with a group to help educate others about the warning signs of depression, bipolar and other mental illnesses before it is too late.

Before trial in Circuit Court, SRHS argued the case should be thrown out because the Vermilyeas were not claiming the health system caused in Vermilyea “an irrestible impulse” to kill himself, as required by the law.

The Vermilyeas claim “medical negligence” on the part of SRHS and its workers caused the suicide and are suing on those grounds.

Circuit Court Judge Robert Krebs ruled the family could sue based on medical negligence. SRHS appealed the decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

“If allowed to stand, the trial court’s ruling would have far-reaching implications for medical providers throughout the state of Mississippi,” SRHS wrote in asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.

The Supreme Court agreed with Krebs’ ruling, saying that, if the Vermilyeas’ lawsuit is true, SRHS and the health-care providers “negligently failed to perform an adequate suicide risk assessment and then negligently discharged Randy Vermilyea from the hospital on his own, without shoes, and without notifying any of his relatives of his suicide attempt.”

The opinion also said, “It was foreseeable that, if the hospital and its staff failed in their duty by releasing Randy Vermilyea without adequate treatment and care, he would resume his attempt to take his own life.”

The court has returned the case to Krebs for trial, where the Vermilyeas would have to prove medical negligence to prevail. They filed the lawsuit in October 2015.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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