The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

April 29, 2013

Lawsuit: UPMC had chances to have gunman committed

PITTSBURGH — In the weeks leading up to a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh psychiatric hospital last year, multiple doctors or staffers who encountered the gunman considered having him involuntarily committed but didn’t, an amended lawsuit filed by a receptionist wounded in the rampage alleges.

John Shick, 30, opened fire March 8, 2012, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, killing one person and wounding five others. Campus police shot Shick to death.

Shick, who was schizophrenic, had been upset with the health network’s doctors for not diagnosing illnesses that he imagined he suffered, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala has acknowledged. The new complaint sheds additional light on his encounters with UPMC-affiliated doctors.

Shick visited a foot and ankle specialist twice in the month before the shooting, both times carrying a baseball bat. Though he used the bat as a cane on one occasion, on the other he banged it on the counter and waved it threateningly, the new complaint said.

Also in the month before the shooting, Shick’s mother called a psychiatric crisis network run by UPMC in hopes its staff could talk Shick into committing himself, but Shick wouldn’t let the workers into his apartment. And a doctor who was aware both that Shick had brought a baseball bat to the specialist’s office and of a confrontation that prompted hospital security staff to draw their guns on Shick also contacted the crisis network about having Shick committed but never followed through, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit “falls far short of the standards required to impose responsibility” on UPMC or its doctors, UPMC said in a statement on the 89-page complaint, which was first reported Monday by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The complaint was filed late Friday by Mark Homyak, the attorney for injured receptionist Kathryn Leight, 65, and her husband.

The complaint named 17 UPMC doctors or their staff members.

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