Did they have to die?

From The Oregonian, December 29, 2002 – not available online

There were times when Elise John understood that her schizophrenia could, without notice, take away her volition to care for herself.

During a moment of clarity, she wrote these instructions so her family would know how she wanted to be treated while in the hospital:

1. I like animals, dogs.

2. Check to see if they’ve mistreated me, raped me, etc.

3. Bring me nice children’s music, things to do with my hands — balls and squishy stuff.

4. Speak to me calmly, like a sick child.

5. I have no anger in me.

6. Visit me as often as possible — the words I will not understand, but the calm voice I will.

7. Have (an older brother) tell me jokes. His laughter will bring me joy.

8. Check to see that I have not been mistreated like an animal. I will not understand the words, but the emotions I feel are real.

9. If I look “insane” and out of control, it is only because I lack attention. Talk to me calmly, and I will calm down.

10. Peace.

John was involuntarily committed after a suicide attempt in March 1999. She spent two weeks at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center in Northwest Portland, mostly under her covers or cowering near the nurses’ station, hiding from an imagined killer. State records show she talked openly about hanging herself, tried to swallow a comb and ate soap.

Nonetheless, John’s psychiatrist released her on an evening pass, alone, to buy clothing for herself on March 26, 1999. John, 28, bought a rope, waited until dark and hanged herself from the Morrison Bridge.


Lloyd Dean Seaman Jr., 33, auto-body worker, fisherman, electronics enthusiast

Lloyd Dean Seaman Jr. was so afraid that he would kill himself he called police on April 28, 2001, and asked to be arrested.

Medford police delivered Seaman, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, to Rogue Valley Memorial Hospital, where an urgent response worker from Jackson County’s mental health department evaluated him.

The worker decided that Seaman, who had waited several hours in the emergency room, was no longer a danger to himself or others and did not merit an expensive hospital bed. The worker gave Seaman a phone number to call if he felt suicidal again and sent him home.

Hours later, Seaman, 33, swerved his pickup into oncoming traffic on Oregon 140 near Medford. Witnesses called it a miracle that no one else was seriously injured in the horrific four-car pileup. Seaman, however, was thrown from his truck. A witness recalled him sprawled in the road, alive with outstretched arms, begging for help as a motor home, unable to stop, crushed him.

Authorities ruled Seaman’s death a suicide. Jackson County mental health officials decided it wasn’t their fault.

“While hospitalization may have prevented (Seaman’s) death, the facts do not support hospitalization,” wrote a county worker in a report the state filed away.


Any guilt was left for a 12-year-old boy in Klamath Falls.

“It was an illness,” Melinda Johnson says she still tries to explain to her and Seaman’s son. “He didn’t do it because he wanted to leave you.”

John Klamath Jackson, 37, member of the Wintun Tribe, his sister’s “big, cuddly teddy bear”

Deinstitutionalization was supposed to put John Klamath Jackson under the caring watch of his community. Instead, it put him in a retirement center at age 37.

Workers from Clackamas County’s mental health department sent Jackson, who suffered from schizoaffective disorder, to the Oregon City Retirement Center on April 22, 2001, after his delusions became too much for him to bear.

In his delusional state, Jackson promptly fell in love with a woman in her 70s, herself with dementia. He wistfully told his sister and center staff that he wanted to elope with the woman to Arizona. Seventeen days after he was admitted, the center “evicted” Jackson after he had run afoul of the home’s fraternization policy, medical examiner’s records show.

Records and interviews show Jackson sat in the nursing home parking lot and sobbed. He left and later swallowed 35 antidepressant and antipsychotic pills that nursing home staff had handed him upon his departure. He died at the Willamette Falls Hospital in Oregon City four excruciating hours later on May 8, 2001.

Kevin Canales, a nursing home administrator, said no fraternization policy exists, that a case manager had cleared Jackson’s release and that the medical examiner’s report was wrong.

Why Jackson wasn’t sent to a psychiatric hospital in the first place isn’t noted in DHS records. But Jackson’s sister, Mary Haemker, said she was told he “did not meet the criteria for acute inpatient hospitalization at a psychiatric facility.”

A retirement center didn’t meet Haemker’s criteria for the best place for her mentally ill brother. “They should have known you can’t just throw someone like that out in the street. Especially with a broken heart,” Haemker said.