Coming to their rescue

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,

Bruhl said.

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.