Mary A. Castillo
On any given week the Laguna Beach Police log has a few calls from
people threatening suicide. An officer is always dispatched to that
person to provide help. However this past week, officers were faced
with two very serious suicide attempts. Shortly after midnight on
July 16, the department received a call from a woman who was upset
that her friend threatened to kill himself with a gun.
“All officers on duty responded,” said Sgt. George Ramos, who upon
arriving at the corner home on 8th Avenue in South Laguna got on the
phone and began negotiations with the man. Six officers surrounded
the house. Although the man never admitted to Sgt. Ramos that he
intended to kill himself, Laguna police requested a sergeant and two
deputies from the Orange County Sheriff Department to help handle
Upon running a records scan, officers discovered that a 9mm Glock
handgun was registered to the man’s name.
“With a call like this there is always a potential for medical
aid,” said Capt. Paul Workman who was also at the scene. A fire crew
and paramedics were standing by within a block of the South Laguna
Workman described the four-hour negotiation as very calm. At one
point the man asked to speak with his lawyer in Dana Point, however
he never threatened officers with a gun.
“He wanted to go to sleep so he could go to work the next
morning,” Workman said. “We weren’t leaving until he came outside to
talk to us.”
After four hours the man came out of his home and agreed to go
with officers. He was taken to South Coast Medical Center for
treatment. The handgun and a 22mm rifle were taken in.
“There are two ways you can handle these type of situations,”
explained Workman. “You can go in and light up the house and evacuate
the neighbors or just talk them out.”
The second case involved a 30-year-old woman found unconscious in
her hotel room at the Crescent Bay Inn last Sunday afternoon. Her
friend told officers that she had ingested 30 unknown pills. Although
she did not leave a note or indicate why she wanted to take her life,
paramedics transferred her to South Coast Medical Center where she
was placed under observation, according to Sgt. Greg Bartz.
The Inpatient Psychiatric Unit at South Coast Medical Center can
admit up to 80 attempted suicide patients a month, said Jay Bruhl,
director of the Behavioral Medicine Department. Patients who have
overdosed or are in need of medical attention are first treated in
the emergency room and later admitted into the locked inpatient adult
psychiatric unit. If a patient refuses treatment and is a danger to
him or herself or to others, or is in any way disabled, doctors will
place that person in an involuntary hold for 72 hours.
“Our first priority is safety,” Bruhl said. “Each patient provides
a unique situation.”
Upon admission, a nurse will sit down with the patient to perform
an assessment and try to understand what happened to this person that
drove them attempt suicide. That assessment determines the
appropriate level of observation the patient will be placed under.
“For some who overdose,” Bruhl said, “when they discover that
they’re still alive, they’re very distraught.”
Through experience, doctors know that these patients are thinking
what they did wrong and how they can be successful at the next
opportunity. Patients who are this desperate are watched on a
round-the-clock watch with a staff person placed within arms-reach,
Patients who have attempted suicide walk down the road to recovery
accompanied by a team of doctors, therapists, social workers and
mental health workers.
“It is the psychiatrist’s responsibility to establish a trusting
rapport with this person,” said Bruhl. “We discover what happened in
their life that led to this and what needs to change.”
The Psychiatric Program at South Coast Medical Center can be
reached at (949) 499-7501.
* MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot.
She covers education, public safety and City Hall.