Suspect in Drugging of Baby to Be Tried

Times Staff Writer

A judge ruled Wednesday that hospital technician Randy Powers, charged with injecting a near-fatal dose of the heart drug Lidocaine into a Van Nuys infant, should stand trial for assault with a deadly weapon and practicing medicine without a license.

At a preliminary hearing, Van Nuys Municipal Court Judge Judith Meisels Ashmann said that the evidence presented against the 26-year-old Encino man warranted the charges, which carry a maximum state prison term of seven years and eight months. Ashmann set the trial date for Feb. 6.

Detective P.J. Quartararo of the Los Angeles police testified that Powers admitted injecting the drug into 11-month-old Sarah Mathews, who was rushed to Northridge Hospital Medical Center Sept. 10 after she began experiencing seizures.

Quartararo showed the court a statement signed by Powers in which he admitted stealing both the Lidocaine and the syringe from Queen of Angels Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he worked as a trainee during the summer of 1983.

"He indicated that he did not know what the (drug's) effect was, or how much he gave her," Quartararo testified.

However, in an interview after the hearing, Powers charged that Dr. Daniel Wiseman, a pediatrician who treated the girl on the day of the incident, administered the drug in the hospital emergency room.

"I witnessed Dr. Wiseman inject Lidocaine in her spine," said Powers, who took the girl to the emergency room and remained there during her treatment. "I did not inject her with any drug. It was Dr. Wiseman. I saved this little girl's life."

Wiseman could not be reached for comment on Powers' allegation, but Deputy Dist. Atty. Michelle Rosenblatt said, "There are other doctors, nurses, records corroborating that Dr. Wiseman did not inject any Lidocaine. It's a basic defense that will be disproved during trial."

Powers has maintained that, on the day of the injection, Sarah was bitten by a spider at the home of his mother, Hazel Powers, who was baby-sitting the girl.

After Sarah started to develop convulsions, Powers said, he administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and then drove her to the Northridge hospital.

At the hearing, Dr. John Arterberry said that while treating Sarah, who was unconscious, he noticed a swollen, reddened area on the girl's right thigh that had "characteristics not like a spider bite, but looked like an injection mark from a needle."

Wiseman, who also saw Sarah at the hospital that day, testified that he also believed that the redness was the result of an injection because there was "only one mark instead of two," as in an insect bite. "That led us to think it was a hypodermic needle mark," he said.

A subsequent blood test indicated a high and concentrated dose of Lidocaine, Northridge Hospital medical technologist Louise McCausland testified.

Wiseman said the amount of Lidocaine in the baby girl's body "could have killed her. It was well into the fatal range."

Sarah was released from Northridge Hospital Oct. 8, after having undergone a tracheotomy to keep her breathing passages open after the drug overdose. Now 15 months old, she has "almost fully recovered," said her father, Brian Mathews, who was in the courtroom Wednesday.

Other Deaths Probed Powers is also being investigated in connection with the deaths of several elderly patients at Queen of Angels Medical Center and Sherman Oaks Community Hospital, according to the district attorney's office. The deaths were originally attributed to natural causes.

Powers had been employed by both hospitals in 1983 and 1984, according to hospital records. Brian Kelberg, chief of the district attorney's medical-legal section, said Wednesday that four bodies have been exhumed as part of the investigation.

Powers, who was arrested Sept. 13, was released on $20,000 bail in October.

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