Lawyer: Woman spotted in stairwell four days before body was found

<i>This post has been corrected, as indicated below.</i>

SAN FRANCISCO -- The hospital where a patient vanished and was discovered dead in a stairwell 17 days later told the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department that a woman had been spotted there four days before the patient’s body was found, the lawyer for the woman’s family said Thursday.

Haig Harris, who is representing the children of Lynne Spalding, 57, said a medical official from San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center told him Thursday that an unidentified man was on the emergency exterior stairwell shortly before 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 4, banging on a fifth-floor door to be let in.

A senior hospital employee heard the noise and opened the door, which locks from the outside, Harris said. The man then told her that there was woman lying on the stairwell below near the fourth floor, where Spalding’s remains were later discovered.


“She didn’t go out and walk down to view what was there,” Harris said, but she called the sheriff’s department, which provides security for the city-owned hospital, and reported the sighting.

“We don’t know whether a search was even done,” Harris said.

He said the hospital also has not received any information from the sherriff’s department about its actions in the case. A spokeswoman for the sheriff has declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

The hospital does not know the identity of the man who saw the woman, but said he was wearing a name tag, Harris said.

Harris said the hospital has offered to meet with Spalding’s children to answer any questions they might have, but he has advised his clients against a meeting at this time.

“I told him I would convey the hosptial’s condolences and their horror as well,” Harris said. “This doctor made no bones that this is the most horrible thing they have ever encountered.”

A statement on the hospital’s website said the staff was “very distressed and concerned about Lynne’s death and is committed to finding out exactly what happened so that it will never happen again.”


Since the incident, the hospital has instituted daily fire stairwell checks, updated stairwell alarms so they trigger a security check by sheriff’s deputies and require deactivation by staff.

“If a fire stairwell alarm rings, and the stairwell is near a patient care unit, the charge nurse will immediately check the unit to ensure that all patients are accounted for,” the hospital said in another statement on its website.

Spalding, a longtime San Francisco resident who was divorced with two children, went to the emergency room on Sept. 19. She was admitted with what was diagnosed as a urinary tract infection, a family spokesman said, and the hospital said she was improving and in fair condition when she disappeared from her room on Sept. 21.

The hospital notified the sheriff’s department of Spalding’s disappearance, and a search did not locate her. Her family distributed hundreds of fliers throughout the city in an attempt to find her.

A member of the hospital’s engineering staff came across Spalding’s body on Oct. 8 and alerted authorities. San Francisco’s medical examiner has yet to report a cause or time of death.

[For the record, 2:25 p.m. PDT Oct. 24: An earlier version of this post and an accompanying photo caption stated that Lynne Spalding’s body was discovered on Oct. 9, five days after a woman had been spotted in a hospital stairwell. Spalding’s body was found on Oct. 8, four days after the sighting.]


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