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Pain Doctor's Trial: Three Lives Lost

Family members of three patients who died under the care of Hurwitz testfied in court against him.

<ro><b>Linda Lalmond, 51</b>

<lst>Valerie Gildard, 37, received an e-mail from her aunt, Linda Lalmond, the day Lalmond first arrived in McLean to see Dr. William E. Hurwitz.

"I love this doctor. He has me on low doses of morphine. He really did get it," Lalmond wrote her niece, who testified for the prosecution in the trial of Hurwitz. "The pain has improved a good deal. We talked a long time. Valerie, I think this man's going to give me my life back. I really do."

But the next day, Gildard received the last e-mail her aunt ever wrote. "Valerie, I am on morphine. It is working better today. He told me I was not taking enough. The sleepiness will pass. Naptime. Love you both."

Lalmond died the during the night of May 30, 2000, the day after she traveled to Fairfax County to see Hurwitz for pain relief from fibromyalgia.

Lalmond and her husband David Lalmond drove 8-10 hours from North Carolina on May 29, 2000 to see Hurwitz. Her family doctor's prescription for Tylenol-3-with-codeine didn't relieve her pain and "he said he couldn't give more," testified Lalmond's husband David Lalmond, 63. "He said if he gave her a stronger prescription his practice would be in jeopardy."

Hurwitz prescribed Lalmond morphine sulphite, and she filled the prescription at a pharmacy a few blocks away from her hotel in Falls Church. The second day, Hurwitz increased her dose, recommending three to four tablets every three to six hours.

The couple went to Wendy's where she drank a milkshake with her morphine, then shopped at Tysons Corner for a few hours. At 5 p.m. at Inns at Virginia on West Broad Street, she took four more pills with milk.

"She was feeling upbeat and quite confident with what we were doing. At 6 to 6:30 p.m., she said she was going to lay down and she might sleep through the night," testified David Lalmond.

The next morning, Lalmond dressed to go for a jog and leaned over to kiss his wife, who he thought was still sleeping.

"I leaned over her head to kiss her and she was cold and not moving," David Lalmond testified, asking for a minute before resuming. "I called the hotel operator and said I believe my wife had just died. It seemed like moments before we had EMTs and police in the room."

Autopsy reports revealed that the morphine level in Lalmond's system were high — the fifth highest Dr. Carol O'Neill, Fairfax County forensic toxicologist, had seen in five years.

Evidence sent to O'Neill that was collected at the scene by Sgt. Richard Campbell, of the Falls Church Police Department, raised a question about whether Lalmond had taken too much of a previously prescribed pain medication at the same time as the morphine. Lalmond had just 63 of the 120 original pills in a bottle of Tylenol-3-with-Codeine, prescribed by her North Carolina doctor, and filled just a five or six days earlier on May 24. The directions were to take four of these pills a day.

David Lalmond won a civil law suit against Hurwitz in 2003.

<i>Editor's note: Hurwitz was convicted by the jury on Count 2 of the indictment, charging him with the distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death. He was also convicted on two counts of drug trafficking distributions for prescriptions to Lalmond. </i>

<ro><b>Rennie Buras, 37</b>

<lst>Buras, a New Orleans' oyster fisherman who had three operations following a boating accident in the Bayou in 1987, traveled 14-16 hours by car to see Dr. William E. Hurwitz for his pain in early 1999.

"In February, he seemed to be very optimistic," testified his son, Rennie Scott Buras II, 24, now a law school student at George Washington University who drove with his father to see Hurwitz in McLean in August of 1999. "He felt Dr. Hurwitz was more sympathetic."

Buras stopped having pain in his back and neck and told Hurwitz how grateful he was for the treatment, testified Promise Amos, Buras’ girlfriend.

But Buras' son let the jury understand the impact the events of fall, 1999 still have on him.

On Sept. 6, 1999, "My dad was in fetal position, he was basically saying, "I love you and I feel like I'm going to die.' I was saying, 'Don't leave me, let's go to the movies,' to keep him talking," testified Buras' son, then a teenager.

Amos moved out three days later. "I had a newborn son, I didn't want to be around it, watching him go down the way he was," she said. "If the Fed Ex truck was late [with medications], you'd see the withdrawal."

A month later, Rennie Buras, 37, died of multi-drug toxicity, according to the coroner's report, on Oct. 9, 1999.

"When I got out of the car, people were crying. I had the worst feeling," his son testified. His father died, hunched over on the coach, in a bowl of jello.

Hurwitz called the family, after Buras missed an appointment. Bonnie Buras Johnson, 47, Buras' sister, testified that Hurwitz said, "I'm calling to ask you about your brother, what happened?

"I said, 'You killed him with all the pills you prescribed him."

Although the Buras family was awarded a civil settlement, questions still surround Buras' death, according to Hurwitz's attorneys. An error by the pharmacy issued Buras' a bottle of morphine instead of methadone, which Hurwitz prescribed for his pain. An EMT report also showed that Buras had a heart condition and could have died of cardiac arrest, according to defense attorneys. Buras complained of chest pains earlier that summer to Amos, but she and Buras never reported that to Hurwitz or Buras' son.

Rennie Buras was Kilee Hoskin's uncle. "The man built planes and boats and things with his bare hands," testified Hoskin, 25, during the third week of Hurwitz's trial. "[Paramedics] thought he was retarded, that's how the pills affected him."

<i>Editor's note: The jury could not reach consensus in counts three and four, which charged Hurwitz with distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death and serious bodily injury to Rennie Buras. The jury remained hung after more than 30 hours of deliberation on these three counts.

The jury found Hurwitz guilty of count eight, drug trafficking distributions of a controlled substance prescribed to Buran on Oct. 5, 1999. The jury found Hurwitz not guilty of an illegal distribution when he prescribed medication to Buras on Aug. 8, 1999.

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<ro><b>Mary Nye, 45</b>

<lst>Bedridden by an automobile accident so severe that he had to relearn how to walk and talk, Paul "Andy" Nye, 50, was helpless to the pain OxyContin was causing to his family.

Nye's wife, Mary Nye, who injured her back, slipping in a grocery store in 2000, became addicted to OxyContin along with two of their three daughters, after she consulted Hurwitz and forged her husband's signature on the doctor's consent agreement form.

Nye was prescribed 50,587 OxyContin pills and 73,087 total pills by Hurwitz, a number so large it caught the attention of William Patillo, benefits manager with Nye's company, Washington Gas.

From Jan. 1, 2001 to April 30, 2001, prescriptions cost the company's health care provider $113,000, Patillo testified. "I had never seen expense of that nature over a short period of time.”

Nye's company offered his wife various forms of alternative therapy, including surgery, other medications, even drug rehabilitation. Patillo called Hurwitz to discuss the possibility of a different plan, and Hurwitz responded in October 2001, stating he would start reducing her prescriptions. But less than three weeks later, Patillo received another letter from Hurwitz, who said he was not going to implement that strategy.

Patillo cut off insurance for medication for the entire family on Dec. 12, 2001.

Meanwhile, Nye said conditions at home deteriorated because of his wife's addiction and he moved out in July 2002. "I couldn't see the rest of our lives going down this direction. Sometimes, you reach a point where you have to save yourself."

His two oldest daugthers, Rachel, 23, and Erin, 20, who were granted immunity by the government, also became addicted. "They were acting like their mother," he said, even selling stereo equipment and Nintendo to fill prescriptions.

Mary Nye died in the fall of 2002 of acute chronic pancreatitis.

Paul Nye sat next to Rennie Buras' son and Lalmond's huband as prosecutor Eugene Rossi gave the government's closing statement.

"We are here because Linda Lalmond, Rennie Buras and Mary Nye cannot be," Rossi said.

Following Rossi's closing statement, Nye said his family is still recovering, with tears in his eyes.

"I've told them, they had to lose their Mommy, for us to become functional again."

<i>Editor's note: Hurwitz was found guilty of count six of the indictment, distribution of a controlled substance resulting in serious bodily injury to Mary Nye. He was also convicted by the jury for two of the five counts of illegal distribution for prescriptions issued to Nye.